Posts Tagged ‘Melissa Contreras’

Upper East Side Farmers Market is located on the north west corner of Biscayne Boulevard and 79 St.

The newest grower-supported farmers market has opened at the Biscayne Plaza shopping center in northeast Miami. The Upper East Side Farmers Market is managed by Melissa Contreras and the Urban Oasis Project, a local non-profit which is also involved with the Liberty City Farmers Market.

Red leaf butterhead lettuce

The market is small (only four tents) but carries a wide assortment of seasonal fruits and vegetables. All the food is locally grown (within 150 miles of Miami) from several farms and market gardens, and most of it is organic. The selection changes from one week to the next, and some things sell out quickly — so come early for arugula and callaloo. (Those sold out early two weeks in a row.) Some of the produce available last Saturday was sweet starfruit, stubby forked carrots, beautiful red leaf butterhead lettuce that looked airbrushed, bunches of dill and parsley, massive purple-top turnips, kale, and black sapote, just to mention a few things.

In addition to fresh produce, the market offers a wide selection of prepared foods, which also vary from one week to the next. Art Friedrich, co-founder of Urban Oasis, brought quart jars of brine-cured sauerkraut, and zucchini bread to die for. Oval loaves of artisanal bread lay in a basket next to local wildflower honey and Hani’s Organics baba ghanoush. On the next Saturday, bagged worm castings and bottles of worm tea (natural fertilizer) were available from Fertile Earth Foundation. The most surprising discovery was one-pound bags of rice, both white and brown, organically grown in Florida (in rotation with sugar cane) south of Lake Okeechobee.

Friends hanging out at the market.

I visited the market on the first two Saturdays it was open, and each time it was busy with a steady stream of customers. Melissa Contreras, co-founder of Urban Oasis, guess-timated that they had at least 100 shoppers on the first Saturday. Prices at this new market are a bit lower than what you might expect to see at a farmers market, plus they accept food stamps and match EBT purchases up to $10.

“The point of this market is to bring the communities together,” said Kelliann McDonald, spokesperson for Terranova, the center’s developer. She pointed out that the location is right between an upscale neighborhood and a poorer one. She envisions the market becoming common ground for both groups.

For several hours on Saturday, people shopped, tasted fruit, hung out for a little bit and told stories at this brave new market. Whether it will become a community hub remains to be seen, but one can only hope the people in the area, both rich and poor, will embrace the farmers and their bounty.

Look for the Upper East Side Farmers Market in front of Payless at Biscayne Plaza Shopping Center, located on the northwest corner of Biscayne Blvd. and 79 St. in Miami. Open on Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm until May 28, 2011.

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The Liberty City farmers’ market has a new home from now though April 2011!

Still every Thursday from noon to 6pm, about 10 blocks west of original location, new address is:

African Heritage Cultural Arts Center
6161 NW 22nd Ave
Miami, Florida 33142

Additional info at www.urbanoasisproject.org

Please come visit this local grower-supported market, which still has some of the best local, mostly organic, affordable produce in town for everyone!

It serves the under-served, and doubles EBT (food stamp) money up to $10 per visit. Credit and debit accepted!

This location is in a beautiful park, highly visible at the intersection of two main roads, is fenced in, has ample parking and bathrooms, and has children’s programs and after-school care. It is owned by the county, and has been a hub of African heritage culture and arts events for years.

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Liberty City Farmers Market

Due to to City of Miami permitting issues, this Thursday, Feb. 2nd, the market will take place at:

Jessie Trice Center for
Community Health
5361 NW 22nd Ave
Miami, Florida 33142

Map to Jesse Trice Community Health Center here.

Nestled in a park in North Miami-Dade County is a new grower-supported farmers market. You could say that it’s the best kept secret in town. On Thursday afternoons from noon to 6 pm, a steady trickle of neighbors and foodies have been finding their way to the Liberty City Farmers Market located at the Belafonte TACOLCY Center park on NW 62 St and 8th Ave. The shoppers come for the wide assortment of locally grown organic, sustainable (and some conventional) produce from five different farms and other local growers, set out under a big tent in the middle of the park.

Melissa Contreras, market manager

Fruits and vegetables are just as good and fresh as what you’d find at other grower supported markets in town. On a recent visit, I found Melissa Contreras, market manager and founder of Urban Oasis Project, under the big tent spraying fluffy heads of green leaf lettuce with water to keep them fresh. The lettuce, zucchini, pattypan squash, dill, spring onions, and collard greens (to name a few items) were trucked in from Worden Farm. Art Friedrich, Urban Oasis co-founder, was excited to be at market and proudly pointed out papayas he had grown in his yard. He said that backyard gardeners were welcome to come sell their extra crops at the market.

A handful of other local food vendors and artisans are also at the small market. Among them, you will find Lake Meadow Naturals fresh eggs and honey sold by Seriously Organic (the same vendor also at the South Miami Farmers Market on Saturdays and Pinecrest Gardens Green Market on Sundays). You can get Pan De Vida, a delicious whole wheat bread with raisins baked by Juliana, and Georgia collards from Thomas’ Produce, and Higher Heights natural body care products crafted by OmeJah. Fans of Nature Boyz juices will be glad to find Clive and his juicer making fresh squeezed drinks while you wait. The last time I was there, local chef Aria Kagan gave a cooking demo using ingredients from various vendors. After school teacher Erin Healy of Youth L.E.A.D. guided a group of kids around the big produce tent, showing them the different fruits and vegetables.

Erin Healy gives the lowdown on roselle.

It’s been a long road and a lot of work and hope to make this little gem of a market become a reality. Last year, Roger Horne and James Jiler of Urban GreenWorks made a community needs survey, where they mapped out every food store in the area complete with GPS coordinates. They discovered that most stores had very limited fresh produce on their shelves, mostly apples and bananas. Chantal Herron got a small grant from Dade Community Foundation for several green festivals held at the Jesse Trice Community Health Center last year. But that wasn’t enough to conquer the food desert. A farmers market was desperately needed to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to the community. “This market is a very important addition to the neighborhood,” said Chantal. “It can have an impact on the health of the community by changing the way they eat. Most markets in the area don’t have healthy food.”

Urban Oasis Project: Melissa Contreras, Art Friedrich, Nick Reese and Antonio Guadamuz

So a number of non-profits big and small banded together to support the new Liberty City Farmers Market with the “Breaking Ground” initiative.* The organizers were inspired by last season’s successful Roots in the City Farmers Market five miles to the south. To make this particular market actually happen, Urban Oasis Project was tapped for their leadership and collective food raising skills. Melissa Contreras was hired as market manager, based on her market experience while working for Redland Organics last season. She takes local food very seriously. Almost half the food for sale was fresh picked that morning from several backyard microfarms tended by members.

Three weeks after the market opened, Melissa took the “leap of faith” and quit her full time job in Special Events at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. (She was principal organizer of Edible Garden Festival and Food & Garden Festival, as well as childrens’ educational activities.) She had been torn with one foot in each world and had to make a decision. She chose the market, and wants to concentrate her energy on making it a success. Melissa told me, “Failure is not an option. We’ve got to make this happen. People believe in us.”

Linda McGlathery found out about this market through the Food Policy Council.

Part of that belief comes as support from the Health Foundation of South Florida, which contributed $1500 to match funds for SNAP/EBT purchases. (If you buy $10 worth of food with SNAP, you get an additional $10 credit good for purchases at the market.) Private donations to maintain the matching funds program are very welcome. Gifts of $500 and over are channeled through the Health Foundation, a 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor. It passes 100 per cent of the gift to the market, and allows donors to get a tax donation. If your donation is less than $500, you may give directly to Urban Oasis, which has its own 501(c)3 application in the works.

So far, about 60 shoppers come to the market every Thursday afternoon, including a growing number of regulars. Chef Michy Bernstein has come to shop, and so has Ali, the forager from Michael’s Genuine. Some people were getting Market in a Box, an assortment of produce available that day. Limited delivery is also available. Melissa is hoping the number of shoppers will grow, and is getting the word out to nearby Midtown, Miami Shores and Upper East Side. “It’s safe here,” Melissa said, when I suggested that some shoppers might be afraid of venturing into da hood. “We’re in a fenced park next to a butterfly garden and a day care.” The market is located two blocks west of the 62 St. exit off I-95, and there’s plenty of free parking inside the park and on the street.

Liberty City Farmers Market
at the Belafonte TACOLCY Center
6161 NW 9th Ave., Miami FL

* Non-profits in the “Breaking Ground” initiative: Urban GreenWorks, Youth L.E.A.D., Belafonte TACOLCY Center, Urban Oasis Project, Jessie Trice Community Health Center, The Miami Foundation, Health Foundation of South Florida, Urban Paradise Guild, Curley’s House Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity Miami, Hands on Miami, and the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.

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Do as Michelle does and shop at farmers' markets!

Hey there Redland Ramblers!

Guest blogger Melissa Contreras here, back again for some more exciting blog-worthy news! All the news that’s fit to blog about Redland farms right here folks!

You know me as founder of Urban Oasis Project, and we have been helping Liberty City residents create food gardens for more access to fresh VERY LOCAL food for quite a while now. As a formerly closeted farmer, now aspiring urban micro-farmer, I must say that I love plants, especially food plants, and I feel really great when I am surrounded by fresh-picked local produce! So, last year, I began helping Bee Heaven Farm sell their lovely produce at 2 local markets, Pinecrest and Overtown.

The Overtown market was the first all local, producer-run market in Miami in recent history, and seeing its success, many of us started to think that this would be great to have in Liberty City, an urban food desert. It’s easy to find processed foods or fast food there. It’s not so easy to find a mouthwatering, voluptuous heirloom tomato, or any tomato for that matter. This is due to inequalities in our food system, in which not all people have access to real food, produced by farmers and not by factories.

We are so pleased to take one more step toward transforming an urban food oasis from an urban food desert! Our new community farmers’ market will debut in Liberty City this Thursday, featuring lots of Redland produce, and a  dollar-for-dollar match for food stamps (SNAP) users, up to $10 per user,  per market. That’s found money in their pockets for local food!

Some Redland growers represented are Bee Heaven Farm, Three Sisters Farm, Teena’s Pride, and the Homestead Pole Bean Co-op, the only farmers’ co-op left in south Dade.  Hani’s Mediterranean Organics will have goat cheese and his exotic specialties. Redland Organics member Worden Farm from Punta Gorda will be represented as well, with produce grown by those award-winning farmers, Chris and Eva Worden.

We have decided to make one exception to the local rule, although it could still be considered local, depending on your definition, but it definitely regional. Thomas Produce of historically black Liberty City has a relationship with small African American farmers from southern Georgia, who will sell peanuts, pecans, sweet potatoes, and greens.  We are proud to support them, for they too have suffered their own  inequities in the food system. (USDA discrimination suit finally settled today!)

The market will also feature seedlings for your garden and native plants, healthy food, kids activities, music, and monthly health screenings, as well as local organizations. C’mon out!

When: Thursdays from Dec through April from 12 noon – 6pm or dusk (whichever comes first)

Where: Tacolcy Park at Belafonte Tacolcy Center, 6161 NW 9th Ave., Miami, FL 33127

Everyone is welcome!!!


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Hello Redland Ramblers!

Mangos from Dr. Jonathan Crane at TREC, blueberries from Gail & Mike Waldron in Marion County.

Guest blogger Melissa Contreras here again. It’s been several weeks since the last post, and I apologize for that. Most of that time was spent waiting for photos from the official IFAS photographer, my one reliable source of photos from the conference. The poor overworked guy was traveling with several assignments to keep up with, and apologizes for not getting them out in a timely manner. We forgive him. Life’s too short. As promised, this post details the fabulous Florida local food lunches and the Conference workshops. If it’s not enough, well then I guess you’ll just have to attend next year’s conference!

There are omnivore and vegan options at every year’s conference, and both are amazing, featuring Florida food, real food: meat from pastured animals, vegetables and fruits from our fair state’s wide repertoire, milk from small herds of grass-roaming and grass-eating cows, and eggs from hens which get to freely scratch the soil  and eat a smorgasbord of bugs and assorted plants, expressing their “chicken-ness” under the Sunshine State’s skies.

Omnivores loved the delicious Gilchrist Brand Sausage from Jonnie Thompson of Ocala, who emphasizes humane animal treatment.

The fabulous  selections from this year’s menu:


These delicious dishes were made with food provided from small farms all over Florida. Our Redland farmers provided ‘Donnie’ avocado (Bee Heaven Farm), mangos (Dr. Jonathan Crane of TREC), and longans from Guara Ki farm. Summer in the Redlands  means tropical fruit, so we gave the rest of Florida a taste of the tropics.

Breakout sessions followed several tracks of interest: alternative energy, business and marketing, livestock, horticulture, organic and sustainable farming, policy and regulations. This conference is geared toward small farmers, and there were lots of them present looking for ways to make their farms better, branch out into new enterprises, market their products, and more. This year’s  included urban farmers and local food enthusiasts and activists, in addition to farmers.

Yummy Florida okra and blackeye peas from William Moore at Bluefield Organic Farm in Okeechobee.

The different tracks of interest included valuable lectures and workshops. Here’s a sampling of the workshops: Earth Wind and Fire: Renewable Energy Options; Agritourism; Aquaculture and Aquaponics; Minor Fruit Crops; The Excitement about Social Marketing – How it Can Help Your Operation; Pasture Management; Grass Fed Beef: How Do We Get There?; Poultry Management; Expanding Your Fruit Portfolio: Stone Fruit & Muscadine Grapes; Healthy Schools, Healthy Kids – Florida Farm to School Programs; High-Quality Compost for Organic and Conventional Farms; Advanced Disease Management for Organic Vegetables; Small Farm Friendly Approaches to Food Safety; Diversifying the Income Portfolio for Organic Products; and Direct Marketing Regulations (How to Get Products to Market Legally).  Next year’s workshops will be scheduled according to feedback from this year’s conference.

I am the handsomest rooster at the Small Farms Conference and I approve this message.

It was an information-packed weekend, with plenty of fun and networking.  Vendors in the exhibition hall sold everything from organic t-shirts with organic slogans on them, to fish emulsion fertilizer, to packaging for tomatoes and strawberries, to complete aquaponics systems, to worm poop fertilizer, to hydroponic growing systems, to Florida grass-fed beef, to info about becoming certified organic, and so much more.

And who doesn’t love seeing the animals at the livestock exhibit? I spent an hour in there looking at and sometimes petting cows, llamas and alpacas with babies (below), and lots of interesting and unusual poultry breeds.

We love the local, organic hay at the Small Farms Conference--mmm...

Did I mention that this conference was next door to the national convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses? This made for heavy traffic on Sunday morning, with the JWs in their Sunday best. This explains why they did not come knocking on your door that weekend….(I stand corrected- it was a regional conference, thanks for finding that out Margie. There sure were lots of them… )

So, Marian will be back soon. I have to stop or someone might think I have taken her blog over. A coup de blogue, golpe de blogo, or other messy affair could be suspected, but no worries, she will be back to tell you more of the Redlands and its farmers. Thanks for letting me share…

Gratuitous cuteness.

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