Posts Tagged ‘Melissa Contreras’

9th Annual Farm Day Open House

Sunday, December 22, 2013
11:30 am – 3:00 pm

* Activities *

Hay Rides, Scarecrow Making, and other activities for all the kids, young and young at heart.

* Farm Market *

Choose from locally-grown seasonal organic produce, dried tropical fruit, raw farm honey, heirloom tomato and veggie starts, strawberry plants, goat milk soaps, and other goodies for sale. We accept cash/credit/debit/checks and EBT/SNAP, and with Fresh Access Bucks – double your first $20 dollars of SNAP purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables.

* Live Music *

Featuring local singer-songwriter Grant Livingston

* Family Yoga *

The whole family is invited to a 45 minute multi-level yoga class on the front lawn from 11:30-12:15. Taught by certified yoga instruction Meldy Hernandez, RN, MPH. Bring your own yoga mat or a large towel. Suggested class donation $10.

* Food *

Food and a raffle ticket $10.

Chef Caryl Zook, local organic chef and friend of the farm will prepare fresh-from-the-farm food, served buffet-style. The Cantankerous Chef Robert Barnum will roast Redland-raised corn from a local family farm at the campfire circle.

* Fundraiser *

Retiring Extension agent Dr. Mary Lamberts is holding a fundraiser for Cesar Contreras, husband of farmers market organizer Melissa Contreras. Mary has donated her delightful collection of vegetable-themed tchotchkes that she has acquired over the course of her career. They’ll be set up on a table with a donations jar. Choose your favorite collectible and please be generous! Cesar has recently been diagnosed with a serious illness and his medical bills are escalating. The family does not have health insurance.

Bee Heaven Farm
19000 S.W. 264 St.

From southbound on US 1, turn west (right) on Bauer Drive (S.W. 264th St.), and go approximately 5 miles. The farm is 1/3 mile west of Redland Road (S.W. 187th Ave.) on the left side. Look for the farm sign and flags. Please angle park on the swale and walk on in.

Read Full Post »

(part 2 of 2)

There was plenty at GrowFest! to feed your body, mind and soul. Maybe the best part was all the delicious locavore treats. You could seriously nibble your way from one end of the festival to the other and leave with a full belly.

Front and center, right when you entered the park, was the Urban Oasis Project’s tent where Melissa Contreras, Art Friedrich and Carl Templar set up a mini farmer’s market. Tables were piled with all kinds of fresh local produce in season — starfruit, dragon fruit, longans, jackfruit, okra, eggplant, avocados, tomatoes, baby arugula, seminole pumpkin, plus oyster mushrooms, raw honey, organic rice and heirloom tomato seedlings. If you were hungry, you could dig into an addictive bag of Shawnee’s Greenthumb spirulina popcorn. And, if you’re hungry for knowledge, Melissa’s book “Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in South Florida” is a useful resource geared for South Florida gardener. (You can find it at the Upper Eastside and Southwest farmers markets, or get it on Amazon.)

Art Friedrich answers questions about tropical fruit.

Art Friedrich answers questions about tropical fruit.

This year, GrowFest! donated over $1000 to Urban Oasis, and Melissa was thrilled by the gift. “We will use those funds for food and nutrition education at the Verde market,” she said. Her non-profit was recently given a contract to manage the market and farm at Verde Gardens, a low-income housing community in Homestead. Urban Oasis operates several farmers markets in underserved neighborhoods. Event organizer Margie Pikarsky said, “This year I chose Urban Oasis Project for their efforts to bring affordable food to underserved communities. I decided that each year the event will benefit a nonprofit organization which supports/promotes/educates about local food and local agriculture.”

Chef Jon Gambino makes pizza the way the old Italian guys taught him.

Chef Jon Gambino makes pizza the way the old Italian guys taught him.

Delicious aromas of wood fired pizza — yes, pizza! — wafted through the festival. Chef Jon Gabino of Three Sisters Farm brought his pizza oven, pizza dough, and carefully stacked wood next to his work table. Jon’s hands danced with circles of dough, and finished pizzas flew out of the oven as fast as he could make them. Rachael Middleton offered roselle and lemongrass teas and jaboticaba sorbet to complete the meal. Pizza is one of many vegetarian dishes that Three Sisters Farm offers on their Saturday night Farm Meal. Nearly everything on the menu is super local, sourced from the farm or growers nearby. Make your reservations online here.

Jon Gambino and Rachael Middleton serve up pizza while it's hot.

Jon Gambino and Rachael Middleton serve up pizza while it’s hot.

Beekeeper Rigo Delaportilla tells it like it is.

Beekeeper Rigo Delaportilla tells it like it is.

At the demo tent,  there was lots of information to feed your mind. Workshops were scheduled through both days on many gardening topics. Urban beekeeper Rigo De La Portilla spoke on backyard beekeeping. He is one of several local beekeepers who captures swarms and home infestations without killing bees.  Other popular talks were on plant propagation, growing mangoes, vermicomposting (using red wiggler worms to make compost), raising chickens, and setting up a rain barrel.

Robert Morgan Jazz Combo

Robert Morgan Jazz Combo

No festival is complete with without music. This year, music students from Robert Morgan Educational Center’s string quartet performed on Saturday. They had so much fun last year they came back again, and brought the jazz combo with them. On Sunday, members of the South Florida Bluegrass Society livened things up with their old timey tunes.

Cliff and Friends from the South Florida Bluegrass Association

Cliff and Friends from the South Florida Bluegrass Association

Eliza Delaportilla

Eliza Delaportilla with local raw honey, beeswax candles, and some tools of the trade.

Teresa Olczyk and Jeff Wasielewsky from the UF/IFAS Extension office.

Teresa Olczyk and Jeff Wasielewsky from the UF/IFAS Extension office.

Congressman Joe Garcia makes friends with 4-H members.

Congressman Joe Garcia takes a picture with 4-H members.

The celebrity sighting, as it were, came on Sunday afternoon. As I was hanging out by the Extension tent, Congressman Joe Garcia, accompanied by Kevin Chambliss, sauntered into the park and started greeted people. Everybody ran to take a picture with the congressman. You know that your event is on the map when local politicians come to visit!

GrowFest! will be back at the Fruit and Spice Park next year, bigger and better. See you there!

Cuckita “Cookie” Bellande and her daughter of Rochelois Jams

Cuckita “Cookie” Bellande and her daughter of Rochelois Jams

Tom of Florida Keys Sea Salt offers a sampling of salt on an apple slice.

Tom from Florida Keys Sea Salt offers a sampling of salt on an apple slice.

Master Gardeners were on hand to solve problems.

Master Gardeners were on hand to solve problems.

Hani Khouri builds a hot, fresh falafel for hungry customers. His special hot sauce made from ghost and Thai peppers was amazing!

Hani Khouri builds a hot, fresh falafel for hungry customers. His special hot sauce made from ghost and Thai peppers was amazing!

Miguel Bode brought his wide assortment of honey.

Miguel Bode brought his wide assortment of honey.

King Moringa: The world's most nutritious tree

King Moringa: The world’s most nutritious tree

Read Full Post »

Three vendors at the Brownsville Farmers Market offer Argentinean empanadas, fresh local and organic produce from Urban Oasis Project, and Tommie's Gourmet Comfort Food.

Three vendors at the Brownsville Farmers Market offer Argentine empanadas, fresh local and organic produce from Urban Oasis Project, and Tommie’s Gourmet Comfort Food.

Brownsville Farmers Market is small, a clutch of three tents set up in the entrance plaza of the Jesse Trice Community Health Center. But this is where Melissa Contreras of the Urban Oasis Project non-profit, and her assistants, set up shop this season, selling fresh, local and organic fruits and vegetables to the underserved community nearby.

The market is a welcome patch of green in an area not known for healthy eats. The afternoon I came to visit, the place was bustling with staffers and clients of the health center. I had just missed the lunch rush, but got swept up in the cheerful chaos of a group of women leaving a wellness class. They sampled bits of fruit and grabbed up cauliflower picked just 24 hours earlier. Melissa greeted many people by name and cheerfully answered questions. The market accepts EBT and offers matching funds up to $20. One man had a $10 matching token burning a hole in his pocket, which he had received from the center for reaching a health milestone. He carefully chose two golden papayas, bunches of fresh herbs, and a bag of Shawnee’s Green Thumb spirulina popcorn as a treat.

Diverse families come to shop for fresh produce they can't get anywhere else in the neighborhood.

Diverse families come to shop for fresh produce they can’t get anywhere else in the neighborhood.

A woman who comes every week to shop for her family of eight children left with three large boxes of vegetables and a potted African Basil plant the size of a shrub. “This is the only place in Brownsville where she can get vegetables to feed her family,” Melissa said. “This is a food desert.” She explained that a food desert is an area where its residents do not have access to fresh produce and other healthy foods. The residents have to shop at small neighborhood markets that don’t stock much by way of fresh produce.

The Brownsville market moved around and changed names a bit. Originally it was known as the Liberty City market located at the TACOLCY Center. Because of permit issues, it moved to the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, then moved again to this current location and changed names. Last year, the market was funded by grants from the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) initiative, a federal grant administered by the county’s Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade. “This year, we are purely self-funded,” Melissa explained,”Our SNAP matching funds, which are a separate program, are from Wholesome Wave, as they are for all of our markets.”

Melissa Contreras, John Lewis (Sistrunk and PATCH market), Sharon Yeago (consultant), Brett Johnson and Rachelle Lawson-Norwood from PATCH market.

Left to right: Melissa Contreras, John Lewis (Sistrunk and PATCH markets), Sharon Yeago (market consultant), Brett Johnson and Rachelle Lawson-Norwood from PATCH market.

As luck would have it, I got to meet Sharon Yeago, a local food activist and farmers market consultant, who was visiting that afternoon. She was accompanied by representatives of two new farmers markets in Dania Beach (PATCH) and Sistrunk, and stopped to chat for a moment. Sharon was instrumental in helping Urban Oasis get grants for the Brownsville market, and had helped get funding for four other new farmers markets in Miami-Dade. For the past year, Sharon’s been working in Broward to develop new markets through TOUCH (Transforming Our Community’s Health) Broward, a program of the Broward Regional Health Planning Council that also helps underserved residents get access to healthy food.

The Brownsville market is seasonal and will close in two weeks on April 17, following the winter growing season here. It will reopen sometime in fall. After the market closes, the mother of eight and other regulars will have to travel quite a bit further to shop at the next nearest local-grower-supported market. (That would be the Upper Eastside Farmers Market on 66 St. and Biscayne Blvd. It’s also run by Urban Oasis, and is open year round.) But at least there is another market that she can go to.

It took a lot of hard work and determination on the part of Brownsville market organizers to navigate their way through permit and zoning challenges, and to gather funding to get started. But the people of Urban Oasis have proved that it can be done, again and again, despite the odds. Hopefully Miami-Dade County can streamline the process to allow more farmers markets with less governmental difficulties. There aren’t that many sources of fresh produce in the food desert, yet the need is so great.

Brownsville Farmers Market at Jesse Trice Community Health Center
5361 NW 22nd Ave.
Miami FL 33142
Wednesdays from 11 am -2 pm
Seasonal, open through April 17, 2013 (resumes in Fall)

Read Full Post »

(Part 2 of 2)

Two Sundays ago, the second day of GrowFest!, I took a break from selling seedlings at the Bee Heaven Farm tent to stroll around and visit some of the vendors. It wasn’t all plants at GrowFest!. There was plenty to try and buy, much like a farmers market.

Melissa’s new book is available for pre-sale.

The first tent I saw when I entered the park belonged to Urban Oasis Project, one of the event sponsors. Had a chance to chat with Melissa Contreras, founder of the local non-profit. She is extremely knowledgeable about growing food, and spent the last year writing her new book, Organic Gardening in South Florida, and Marty Mesh wrote the foreword. It will be published by the University of Florida Press in February 2013, and is available for pre-order for the reduced price of $25 at the Urban Oasis web site.

Organic farmer Gabriele Marewski (left) at the Paradise Farms tent with some of her flax crackers and organic herbal teas.

Since I have limited space for growing plants on my Balcony Farm and didn’t want to get too many, I was more interested tasting local food and drink. And there was plenty of it on hand, almost all made using locally sourced ingredients. Paradise Farms Organic had an assortment of flax seed crackers called “jump food,” (a play on “junk food”) but their dried oyster mushroom snacks were very popular and sold out before I could nibble on a crumb. Farmer Gabriele Marewski also offered a line of herbal teas made from dried herbs and flowers grown on her certified organic farm.

Grower Sal Santelli with samples of his candy-sweet organic mamey. Bet you can’t eat just one bite!

Got to savor the sweetest mamey grown by Sal Santelli of Health and Happiness Farm. Hope he didn’t notice that I sampled more than one piece from the tray he had set out. Sal was quick to point out that he’s the only commercial grower of certified organic mamey in South Florida. He also had avocados, sunflower sprouts, pea shoots and arugula for sale. (Bee Heaven Farm CSA members have gotten his sprouts in their shares the past season.)

Salt farmer Midge Jolly with samples of salts, spices and sponges.

Nearby was the Florida Keys Sea Salt tent, where salt farmers Midge and Tom offered tastes of different kinds of salt harvested from seawater gathered from a flowing channel between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Midge told me that they’re the only artisan sea salt farmer south of Charleston. Each package of salt is labeled with the date and celestial event/holiday when it was harvested. Midge explained that the season and weather have a great deal of influence on how the seawater evaporates, and what kinds of flavor nuances and texture the salt develops. She also brought buttonwood smoked salt (my favorite), gomasio, and seaweed-flax crackers. Brought home a packet of her newest product, an incredibly aromatic spice blend called Kopan Masala that is sure to liven up anything I’ll cook. You can find their salts at various shops in the Keys, several farmers markets, or order online. (Florida Keys Sea Salt is also available as a Bee Heaven Farm CSA share add-on.)

Miguel Bode has a wide assortment of local and Florida honey.

Two beekeepers, Miguel Bode and Rigo De La Portilla aka the Tattooed Beekeeper, were selling their honey. Miguel Bode keeps hives at Bee Heaven Farm and Paradise Farms, among other local spots. His wildflower honey (which I have been buying for years) is available to Bee Heaven Farm CSA members either as part of their share or as an add-on.

Rigo De La Portilla, The Tattooed Beekeeper, and his wife Eliza with honey, lip balm and other handcrafted bee products.

Rigo gave several demos on backyard beekeeping on both days, and brought sample hives. Over at his tent, along with different size bottles of wildflower honey, I found candles and balms and other beeswax products which his wife Eliza makes. I smoothed on a rich, honey-scented lip balm with propolis that immediately soothed my lips, and sniffed the delicate scent of honey and goat’s milk soap. Eliza aka The Tattoooed Beekeeper’s Wife has a wide assortment of bee products that can be ordered online at her Etsy shop.

In the Battle of the Sliders, the reigning champs: grass-fed beef sliders prepared by Chef Adri Garcia.

Several people were selling juices and water, but the best drink of all was a lightly sweetened, aromatic allspice tea at the Urban Oasis Project tent. The refreshing tea with the spicy, addictive flavor was brewed from leaves of a plant grown by Melissa. “I grew the allspice myself from a seedling purchased from the UM Gifford Arboretum about eight to10 years ago,” she said. “The tea is a popular item at our potlucks. I have also made it into a homemade soda — tropical root beer!”

In the Battle of the Sliders, the contender: grilled crab cake prepared by Jason Mira of Native Conch.

My eating and drinking tour concluded at the “food court” of several prepared food vendors and picnic tables. Over at the lime green and pink Native Conch trailer, Jason, George Mira’s son, made me a grilled crab cake made from lump crab meat mixed with panko crumbs. It was tasty but I still love their conch salad. The line for falafel wraps and jackfruit curry (which sold out quickly) at Hani Khouri’s tent was a mile long, but I was too hungry and impatient to wait.

Took my growling stomach to Chef Adri Garcia’s tent to get some Florida raised grass-fed beef sliders seasoned just so. They were topped with sauteed onion and peppers, and served with a local mixed greens salad from Paradise Farms, dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Not bad for festival food! For dessert there was Roc Kat Ice Cream, a recent addition to the local food scene. I had hoped for a scoop of pineapple brown sugar ice cream, but it had sold out. Roc Kat sells handcrafted ice cream all around town, so look at their site to track them down.

Farmer Margie with the last serving of jackfruit curry. But I got a taste and it was good…

What’s a festival without music? Around the corner from the food court the music tent was set up. On Saturday, kids from the Robert Morgan Education Center String Chamber Ensemble played. The talented teens were really quite good! On Sunday, local singer-songwriter Grant Livingston sang his original playful and witty songs about life in Florida, including my favorites “Homestead” and “Armadillo.” Oh-ee-oh-ee-oh!

Robert Morgan Education Center String Chamber Ensemble

Singer-songwriter Grant Livingston

(Additional vendors and exhibitors not listed earlier in the vendors post, or mentioned above, were Edible South Florida and Tropical Fruit & Vegetable Society.)

Cuckita “Cookie” Bellande and her husband. Their Rochelois Jams are made from locally grown tropical fruit, and the flavors are worthy of a happy dance. Try monstera, jakfruit, and calamondin.

If you missed GrowFest! this year, it will be back at the Fruit and Spice Park again next year. “Yes, we’ll do it again,” Margie said. “This will be the ‘go to’ place to gather what you need to grow and garden. Next year, we can plan on even more types of seedlings (or seeds) and plants, fertilizer, garden tools, pots, etc.” If you missed out on getting tomato and vegetable seedlings from Bee Heaven Farm, “we’ll have some starts when we return to Pinecrest in December,” Margie added.

To see more pictures, check out the GrowFest 2012 album on my Facebook page, and the Bee Heaven Farm’s Facebook page.

At the Bee Heaven Farm tent.

Read Full Post »

Got the following message from Antonio Guadamuz and thought I’d pass it along to all who want to put their money where their mouth is. Below is a checklist of many ways that you can help support Urban Oasis Project with their various efforts to get fresh, local and organic food to under-served neighborhoods. This organization is behind the emergence of two new grower supported markets (in Liberty City and Upper Eastside), and has created dozens of edible gardens for families in need. Now they’re growing in many new directions. Don’t have time to volunteer? UOP is a 501 (c) 3 charity and your donations are tax deductible.

It’s never been a better time to get involved!

Urban Oasis Project has been driven over the past two years mainly by the volunteer efforts of Melissa Contreras, Art Friedrich and Antonio Guadamuz — and they couldn’t even begin to count the number of hours they’ve planted gardens, organized events, networked with people, written grants, coordinated farmers markets, driven vegetables from farm to market, and so much more.

We’re moving into a new phase of the project! Melissa, Antonio and Art will have nearly full-time positions working in our partnership with Earth Learning to create a new sustainable farm and market in East Homestead at Verde Gardens — and it’s going to be impossible to keep up all the other aspects of UOP without a broader group of of members actively taking on responsibilities.

[Urban Oasis Project is no longer affiliated with Verde Gardens!]

Here’s a list of some things that we’re doing that you can help with:

Farmers Markets
Market Assistance —  Helping set-up the market, making the displays pretty, selling veggies, and breaking down. Thursdays and Saturdays.
Market Expansion — Making educational displays, cooking demos, recruiting new vendors, recruiting musicians, etc. Be creative!
Market Outreach —  Promoting the market through flyers, directly to passerby at markets as well as at neighborhood events, homes, stores etc.

Garden Building
GIVE Garden management — Contacting interested recipients, setting up dates to plant, organizing volunteers and materials, follow-up contacts and visits.  Creating handouts for distribution.

Potlucks and Workshops
Organize Workshops — Recruit folks who want to teach, promote the workshops. We’d love to be able to expand this program to reach more low-income people as well! Host a potluck and/ or workshop yourself.

Other Initiatives
Food Truck Project — If we have committed project leaders, we’d like to have our own Food Truck with a permanent garden in the bed, to travel around and give educational presentations.

Homestead-Verde Gardens Farm and Market — Looking for volunteers and workers for the new Verde Gardens project in Homestead! A 22 acre organic, permaculture designed farm we’re building from scratch! Daily work being done so you can come almost anytime!

[Please contact Art Friedrich at 786-548-3733 if you wish to volunteer for Urban Oasis Project activities and events.]

These are a few of the things we do. Do you see a way to tap in? Every little bit counts! The most important thing to us at this point is consistency. You must be able to do what you commit to, otherwise it doesn’t help anybody!

Please call us or email with any questions and to get started! We can do lots to help out, you will be supported!

Antonio Guadamuz
Vice Treasurer
Urban Oasis Project

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »