Posts Tagged ‘Melissa Contreras’

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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Greetings once again, Redland Ramblers! Guest blogger Melissa Contreras here again, founder of Urban Oasis Project, urban micro-farmer.  I’m back to tell you about day two of my trip to the Small Farms/Alternative Enterprises Conference last weekend.

After rising early, we all piled into Margie’s van and headed over to the Osceola Heritage Park for the official beginning of the conference. Since I know that all you local foodies want to know about the food, let me start with breakfast: rather light fare was provided at the conference, but like our full lunch, it consisted mostly of Florida farm-grown food. A deep dish frittata of free-range Florida eggs with cream from grass-fed cows was served, accompanied by Lambeth Groves’ orange juice, cold and fresh, a perfect blend of sweetness and acidity. We were treated to Florida’s “other juice,” Muscadine grape juice: crisp, lightly sweet, and perfumed of dewy-misted grapes, from Lakeridge Winery and Vineyard in the high country of Clermont. Certified organic blueberries from Gail and Mike Waldron of Bay Lake Blueberries in Marion County mingled with mangos from our own Dr. Jonathan Crane of TREC in Homestead.  Fair trade coffee was provided by Sweetwater Organic Coffee Company of Gainesville, which purchases from Rainforest Alliance-certified small farmers in the Tropics. For our coffee, we actually had the luxury of choosing milk from 2 small dairies, Dakin Dairy Farm of Myakka City, or Kurtz and Sons Dairy of Live Oak. Bubba and Leslie Kurtz run a “grass-fed dairy farmstead” of Jerseys and Shorthorns, and work to keep their milk as close to Nature as possible. This is not a business slogan for them, it is a way of life. After coffee finished with Nature’s perfect food, I was ready for a full day of conference and break-out sessions.

We all headed over to the big lunch room for the opening session. Welcomes came from kick-off speakers Dr. Joan Dusky of UF/IFAS in Gainesville and Dr. Ray Mobley of FAMU in Tallahassee, a co-sponsor of the event. FAMU and UF and are Florida’s 2 land grant universities, dating back to the ugly days of segregation, when black people went to one university and white people went to another. (Beside the obvious injustice of this, it begs another question- where did the original inhabitants of this land go? But that is another story.)

Next came the Florida Innovative Farmer Awards! These awards are given to farmers and ranchers who are leaders and innovators, based on the following criteria (quote):

  • Success in making farming systems more profitable over the long term.
  • Ability to use farming practices that enhance, rather than harm, natural resources.
  • Leading -or participating in-  activities that support viable communities, either through economic development or contribution to regional food systems.
  • Effective outreach and/or education about sustainable agriculture ideas and practices to others, such as producers, community leaders, agricultural educators, and the general public.

There were 3 winners of these awards, the first being Chris and Eva Worden of Worden Farm in Punta Gorda. They got up on the stage in front of their small farmer peers, and were given a well-deserved round of thunderous applause. Both are Ivy League educated, Yale and Cornell, but are very down-to-Earth and in love with their vocation and avocation, farming. Upon acceptance of the award, Chris said to the audience, “We love to grow crops.” They grow 50 different varieties, mostly vegetables, some fruit, and do it organically, using soil and water conservation techniques. They have a CSA, sell at farmers markets, have workshops at the farm, art programs, and “grow future farmers and gardeners.” They help community gardens, about which Eva knows a thing or two, having authored papers on the subject. She said “anyone who works with community gardens knows that it is easy to start one, harder to maintain them, so we stay with them, encourage and help them.” Eva explained that they “grow great crops, connect with the local community, and promote the viability of the family farm.”

(L-R) Christine Kelly-Begazo, Eva Worden, Chris Worden. The Wordens receiving the Florida Innovative Farmer Award, a happy achievement for the work they love!

I went to Worden Farm last year with Farmer Margie and the WWOOFers, and my folks from Urban Oasis Project. We had a tour of the farm, and got to see the amazing results Chris and Eva get from good stewardship of their 55 certified organic acres. Because they supply some of the food in Redland Organics CSA shares, I thanked them for feeding my family. By the way, have you thanked your farmer lately?

The second recipient of the awards was Trish Strawn of Deep Creek Ranch in Deland. Trish and her dad, David, work the family farm which has been around since 1883. Trish said they got into grass-fed beef because her dad had a health issue, but she said if you ask her dad, he’ll say it’s because they’re “cutting edge.” The room broke into laughter.Trish is Co-Leader of Slow Food Orlando, and a founding member of the Florida Food Policy Council. She is also a lot of fun to go out and have a beer and a lot of good laughs with, which we did later that night. Trish and her dad are the real deal. Joel Salatin must be proud.

The third award recipient was George Owens of Chipley, FL, who has a mixed cattle and timber/forestry operation, or silvopasture. George could not be present for the awards because his son had just come home for a short visit from Afghanistan. All were very happy for him. The award presenters said “we tend toward a monoculture system, so when we get someone who does integration, we want to encourage it.”  I am a believer in agroecology, and it is very encouraging to hear agricultural professionals talk about moving away from monocultures!

I was very excited to hear my friend Will Allen of Growing Power, Inc. give the keynote address. Unfortunately, Will had some knee surgery which made it impossible for him to travel to the conference, though that was the original plan. Technology to the rescue! The AV geeks got the satellite/internet hookup to Will Allen up and running, and we were able to see and hear him on 2 large screens, and he was able to see and hear us.

That's me with Will Allen at a Growing Power workshop last year. Will loves scooping Lake Perch out of his aquaponics tanks! He loved to fish when he lived in Miami too.

Larger than life on the big screen, Will spoke about the history of Growing Power, all the amazing past, present and future projects they have, and was enthusiastic and inspirational as always. Larger than life is a profound statement when referring to Will Allen, who stands tall at 6’7” and weighs 230 pounds. Will played basketball for the University of Miami in the 1970’s, and still wears an orange and green UM cap with his signature royal blue Growing Power sweatshirt with cut-off sleeves. His biceps are bigger than many supermodel’s waists, and he keeps them that way by working hard every day, growing food for Milwaukee’s inner city on 3 acres, 2 blocks from one of the country’s largest low-income housing projects, in what was an urban food desert until Will’s good food movement became a good food revolution. Will is not an armchair CEO. He gets his hands dirty. He loves farming like Chris and Eva Worden do. I think some of us are born agrarian. It is not a choice, it’s in our blood, and it’s who we are.

Will showed many slides of Growing Power in action: composting thousands of tons of Milwakee’s food and brewery waste and “growing soil” as he says; passing compost through the digestive tracts of thousands of worms, creating rich worm castings fertilizer; raising tilapia and lake perch in the bottom level of a 3-tiered, homemade aquaponics system, with watercress growing in the middle layer, and tomatoes on top; raising chickens and bees in the city; providing a safe after-school space for urban youth to learn green job skills; feeding senior citizens healthy food with a “food basket” CSA; providing a retail grocery space with their fresh salad greens, eggs, and so much more to the neighborhood in which Growing Power’s urban farm resides.

“If people can grow safe, healthy, affordable food, if they have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community.  I believe we cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system.”

Will is a major inspiration for what we do in Urban Oasis Project, doing our part to make good, clean, safe, healthy, and local food accessible to all. Access to real food should be a right of all citizens. Will says “we can’t wait around for government or others to do it, we have to do it, just start doing things.”

I could go on about Will Allen forever, but I’ll stop here. Please come back for Part Three, highlighting local food lunches and conference workshops!

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Hey there Redland Ramblers! This is guest blogger Melissa Contreras, founder of Urban Oasis Project. Last night, a group of Redland and Miami farmers and I returned home after a weekend at the 2nd Small Farms/Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee.  I have always been a farmer wannabe, and as such, I grow food for my family, my pet bunnies,  and a few friends on my 1/4 acre “urban homestead” in Kendall.  I was happy to learn at the conference that this small scale of growing is now being officially considered as part of our local food system, as it should be! The University of Florida/IFAS Extension isn’t just for big farmers and agribusiness, we little people count too!

Cast of characters on this road trip included Bee Heaven Farmer Margie, husband Nick, their new farm manager Jane;  Muriel of Little River Market Garden, Mario of Guara Ki Farm, and me.  Meeting up at Bee Heaven Farm, we shared a ride in Margie’s van, and took the scenic route around the shores of Lake Okeechobee on US 27. It was beautiful! Cows and egrets mingled in green pastures, Nick spotted a sandhill crane, and tri-color herons searched for underwater snacks near the water’s edge. Along the way, through what was once a river of grass, we saw fields of sugarcane (some organic), and picturesque views which reminded me that while South Florida is often thought of as a metropolitan built environment,  it still belongs to Mother Nature, though altered. Hopefully Everglades restoration will return the river of grass to its rightful owner.

After 4 hours on the road, we arrived  and checked into our hotel, the posh and sophisticated Super 8. Hey, we’re on a budget, OK?  I shared a suite with Margie, Nick, and Jane.  After repeated promises to Jane that I would not confuse her with my husband in the middle of the night, she decided to sleep on the couch.  But, I digress.  We had a nice lunch in restored historic downtown Kissimmee, an old cowboy town with a lovely lakefront, unique and colorful wooden homes with gingerbread mill work, unusual eateries and watering holes like ” The Wicked Stepsister,” a nice antique shop,  and so much more. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, take a break from the Orlando area tourist traps and visit this authentic town.

After lunch, we proceeded to the Osceola Heritage Center, site of the next day’s convention, for meetings of the Greater Everglades Foodshed Alliance, the Florida Food Policy Council, and a pre-conference pow-wow with Extension agents from all over Florida. The Greater Everglades Foodshed Alliance meeting was a recap of the Food Summit for interested parties.  The Florida Food Policy Council will “bring together stakeholders from diverse food-related sectors to examine how the food system is operating and to develop recommendations on how to improve it. FPCs may take many forms, but are typically either commissioned by state or local government, or predominately a grassroots effort. Food policy councils have been successful at educating officials and the public, shaping public policy, improving coordination between existing programs, and starting new programs.” (definition from foodsecurity.org). We are forming a soon-to-be Miami food policy council. (Contact Mario if you have a stake in our local food system and want to participate in this new effort.)

Those who attended the informal Friday meetings were also invited to sit in on the pre-conference event for UF/IFAS Extension agents, in which  Dr. Danielle Treadwell, Dr. Mickey Swisher, and Sarasota Extension’s new Director and doctoral candidate Evangeline “Van” Linkous  talked about our changing food system from their different points of view and varying expertise.  Dr. Treadwell champions UF research in organic and sustainable farming, and feels that “educating consumers is an important part of what we do.”  Dr. Swisher said she was surprised to discover the “30 mile problem” in which  “disadvantaged communities in Florida’s urban areas often live 30-40 miles from areas where fresh produce is grown.”  Van’s background is in planning and she was a member of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Council before coming back to Florida from Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania. She feels that much urban zoning could be converted to mixed-use, which could mean urban farms and farm stands could be located within high-density urban populations, giving urbanites more access to local, fresh food. A kindred spirit! We are quite lucky to have these three women in Extension.

So, if you’re catching on to a theme here, the conference tagline was “Sustaining Small Farms…Strengthening Florida’s Communities.”  There was much excitement among attendees on that Friday before the conference, seeing our major research institutions catching onto interests of so many people in local food,  and food justice as a paradigm shift from our current system. Further illustrating this point is the choice of keynote speaker for the conference: my personal hero, Will Allen, founder of  Growing Power, Inc.

I will write more about Saturday of the conference in the next post:  keynote speaker Will Allen, the three Florida Innovative Farmer Award winners, conference workshops, amazing local foods lunch and more! Come back  for more, including pictures!

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text by Art Friedrich, urban farmer, member of Urban Oasis Project
photos by Antonio Guadamuz, member of Urban Oasis Project

Saturday, Nov 28, 2009

Art Friedrich and partner Luigi (in flannel) touring ECHO

Getting out beyond SE FL to see what other things are happening in organic and sustainable agriculture in Florida, 16 folks headed out to ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) Global Farm and Worden’s Organic Farm in N. Ft. Myers and Punta Gorda, respectively. The group consisted of a number of the workers and WWOOF’ers from Bee Heaven Farm, as well as the big brain behind it all, Farmer Margie. Joining them were a number of local food enthusiasts from Urban Oasis Project and some of the new batch of Master Gardener Interns. [Note: Margie organizes a trip to ECHO and Worden every year during the Thanksgiving weekend, for the purpose of enlightening her farm interns and volunteers, and others who want to make the trip.]

Our first stop was the ECHO Global Farm, a christian based project started over 25 years ago to combat the problem of world hunger, primarily in the tropical zone, using the most concrete and long-lasting ways. Tours are available daily, and are well worth the $8. The tour consists of two hours of seeing and hearing about numerous fascinating plants, and methods of growing highly nutritious foods using unconventional and conventional methods that require little monetary outlay. There are six different recreated environments, such as a rainforest, an arid area, a monsoon climate (like we have, with 6 months dry and 6 months really wet), and the fascinating urban garden section.

Container gardening taken to a new level.

The urban garden section showed some great examples of reusing trash, such as old tires, to create containers. Also fascinating was the wicking gardens that are mostly made up of a carpet with a little bit of soil in top and some gravel or even cans wrapped in socks for the plants to have structure to grow on. You fill a closed bucket with a hole in the bottom with water, stick it on an edge of the carpet, and let the garden suck the moisture out as it needs it! This is a great way to use a minimum of water and soil. While some of us had questions about the safety of carpet material, other types of substrate could be developed. Probably any old canvas or woven mat material would do. They try laying the carpet out in the natural UV rays of the sun to break down harmful chemicals.

I also enjoyed the mention of their research using human urine as fertilizer — it is packed full of good nutrients and is sterile! In some countries, this has been government sanctioned for a while, such as in Sweden, where some housing developments have been built with urine diverting toilets that drain to some big tanks. When the farmers need fertilizer, they just pull up, pump some of the liquid gold out, and spray it right on their fields! The savings in water and fertilizer are stellar, and it is only cultural taboo that makes the subject so difficult.

Urban homesteading at its finest!

The Moringa tree is a favorite plant there. They call it the Miracle Tree. One can eat almost any part of it, and it is incredibly dense with nutritive value, and the tree grows in almost any condition. I’ve started my own little plantation at my house in S. Miami.

Rustic raised bed

ECHO is also a seed bank, and they send seeds all over the world to see what works, with attention to both the physical and the cultural aspects. This aspect impresses me. It is applied science that recognizes humanity’s needs as a driving force in experimentation. And the needs of the global poor are great, but with sensitivity and ingenuity, the poor can be given the tools they need to improve their own lives in a sustainable and self-empowering way. ECHO taps into their own knowledge and traditions and offers a broader knowledge base for them to work with.

Endless fields at Worden Farm

The second half of our day was visiting Worden Farm in Punta Gorda. The farm is a brilliant example of hard work and smart planning to generate massive amounts of organic vegetables, sold all along the Gulf Coast. The farm is 55 acres, with about 35 in production, and is only six years old. The soil is almost pure sand, so lots of chicken manure is used as their fertilizer, as well as cover crops to slowly improve the quality. Long rows of raised beds made with plastic sheeting make upkeep relatively easy, and the veggies all looked absolutely flawless.

Drip irrigation system at Worden Farm

The plastic sheeting with drip tape irrigation underneath also helps limit water use, as well as the extra work of short watering cycles very frequently. Extra work to reduce the negative environmental impacts of the farm is a tradeoff they are happy to make. Those plastic sheets at the end of the season don’t hit a trash pile. They go to an agricultural plastics recycler.

Touring Worden Farm by electric cart. L-R: Wwoofer, Eva Worden, Cesar Contreras, Margie Pikarsky (back turned), Melissa Contreras

Farm Ferrari

Cow at Worden Farm

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If you missed seeing FRESH the Movie at last month’s screening up in Broward, you have another chance. The good folks at the Urban Oasis Project are showing FRESH at their September meeting. Also on the agenda is a potluck dinner and a garden tour. The screening/meeting is on Saturday, September 12th. For more details — including how to RSVP — go to the Urban Oasis project website.

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