Posts Tagged ‘Urban Oasis Project’

(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.

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The tents of Upper Eastside Farmers Market, at Biscayne and 66th.

Used to be that local farmers markets closed down in summer, or brought produce in from elsewhere. Isn’t anything growing, I’ve heard. Too hot. But that isn’t necessarily so! Quite an abundance of local and seasonal produce (and other local foods) has been available at the Upper Eastside Farmers Market, which has stayed open through a second summer and is still going strong.

Look, they have mamey! And dragonfruit!

You can count on lots of fruit during the summer. In the last several months I’ve seen lychees, canistel, dragon fruit, mamey, longans, white sapote, Thai guava, jackfruit, starfruit, monstera, mango, avocado, mamoncillo, red guava, sugar apples (anon), bananas and plantains as they come in (and go out) of season. The market also offers eggs, callaloo, collards, both sweet and hot peppers, herbs, french sorrel, potatoes, carrots, eggplant, tomatoes, okra, squash, boniato, calabaza, snake gourd, allspice berries, katuk, honey, Art’s pickles and whatever else is available. You won’t go hungry in the summer!

Market manager Art Friendrich (or his assistant Olga Gomez) makes rounds of dozens of small local farmers and gardens every week, gathering produce for the market. Everything is fresh, and some picked to order. And everything is labeled clearly if it is organic or pesticide free, sustainably or conventionally grown, and which farm it came from. Upper Eastside is one of three markets run by Urban Oasis Project, a non-profit dedicated to bringing fresh and local food to underserved neighborhoods. “UEFM is our only year-round market, and in peak season we run or sell at other community based markets,” Art said. All markets run by Urban Oasis Project accept EBT (food stamps) and doubles dollars — $10 of EBT funds will buy $20 worth of food.

Serving the Community

Art and Olga employ Youth L.E.A.D. apprentices and train them in sales, service and the details of local produce. “They are placed for 6 month periods, and we have had about 6 different apprentices over the last 12 months,” Art said. Judith Fucien has been working at the market for about eight months and enjoys it. “I like meeting new people and exposing them to fruits and vegetables,” she said. Since she started, she has gained experience about food and people. “I learned that all fruits and vegetables are not from here, that not all people are the same, they’re very different in many ways, and there’s lots of friendly dogs.” Judith comes in the morning to set up tents and tables, stays all day helping customers, and at closing helps pack everything up. Market volunteer Miss Shirley sang Judith’s praises. “I admire her because she’s very faithful, very committed to her job,” she repeated.

Youth L.E.A.D. apprentice Judith Fucien (right) rings up a sale.

Customers can close the food loop by bringing back their raw fruit and vegetable scraps for composting. Right now, the scraps are going to Art’s compost heap, but that wasn’t always the case. Recent Youth L.E.A.D. graduate Terry Perman would take a full bin of scraps for composting to the nearby Earth N Us urban farm. But grant money ran out and Terry moved on. Founder Erin Healy has applied for grant money from the Health Foundation to resume this project. She wants to buy an adult tricycle (with a big basket to haul a compost collection bin) and pay a monthly stipend to the compost gatherer. Composting is just one of many programs and events run by the non-profit. According to Erin, “Youth L.E.A.D. is an emerging food justice organization that educates, empowers, and employs underserved youth to eat healthy, local diets while increasing access to healthy, local foods in their communities.”

Visit With the Vendors

Every time I chat with Yorkys of Bodhi’s Garden Delights I learn something new. She grows herbs in raised beds in her back yard and at Wynwood on the Green, then pots them up to sell at market. This past weekend, she offered Cuban oregano, aloe, culantro, thyme, rue and papalo, along with less typical varieties of basil. Each plant comes with a little card indicating what it’s good for and how to prepare it. Ask her a question, and Yorkys will share her knowledge of cooking and self-care. She also sells cooked vegetarian food, seasoned with her herbs.

Yorkys sells herbs from her garden to yours.

At Novae Gourmet Jerky you’ll meet lively and talkative Helen Cole, the artisan who makes small batches of jerky with Angus beef and chicken. She sources clean meats that are hormone and antibiotic free, and seasons them with her own blends of spices and herbs. Beef comes in teriyaki, BBQ, honey coryaki (sweet or hot) and penang chili (hot) flavors. Chicken jerky comes in teryaki and now penang chili flavors, and is incredibly popular. Some varieties are sliced thick and chewy, and others are thin and crispy like chips. Helen calls her customers “jerky junkies” and for good reason. Try one piece and you want another. Next thing you know the package is empty, and it’s time to get more.

Helen Cole dishes out a taste of jerky.

A sunny day at market can be wicked hot and requires a stop for refreshment at Nature Boyz where Clive makes fresh juices. You’ll find him in constant motion behind his bamboo stand — feeding stalks of sugar cane into a large boxy juicer that presses sweet cane juice (guarapo) into a container, or cutting up fruits and loading the swirling blender, or pouring and serving drinks to thirsty customers. Every drink starts with a base of sugarcane and you can choose pineapple, mango, passion fruit or carrot, or design your own blend. If you need a pick me up, ask for extra ginger. Other choices are fresh coconut water straight from the nut, or a shot of fresh-squeezed wheatgrass. Clive also offers a small assortment of tropical fruit, which he sources from growers in Homestead.

Some of the other vendors at the market are Proper Sausages, Copperpot’s Jams, Hadaya Spices, Crackerman, Asha’s Orchids, Massud’s Roasted Corn, and Akete’s Jamaican Fritters.

Market manager Art Friedrich weighs mushrooms for a customer.

The market is open on Saturdays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. It located next to the NET office on Biscayne and 66th St. (They moved in March from their old location on a windy, noisy corner of Biscayne and 79th St.) Parking is very tight, as people jostle for a handful of spaces. Almost every weekend there’s a close call (and sometimes a fender bender) in that cramped little lot. Best to turn from Biscayne onto 64th St., go east one block, turn left, go one short block and leave your car in the Legion Memorial Park lot. The walk through the park to the market is safe, pleasantly breezy, and not very long. If you pass by early enough, there’s a free yoga class of about 20 students that meets every Saturday morning at 10 am in the shade of live oak trees.

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*** Part Two of two ***

McArthur “genius prize” winner Will Allen spoke about his work in urban farming on a recent book tour. Here is part two, about his influence on a local non-profit.

Will Allen spoke at a recent tour of his new book, The Good Food Revolution.

In the audience were a number of people deeply involved in our fledgling local food movement. Among them were Melissa Contreras and Art Friedrich of Urban Oasis Project, a non-profit that plants food gardens and runs farmers markets. Their mission is clear and simple: “We believe that good, clean, healthy food should be accessible and affordable to all.”

Project founder Melissa was thrilled to hear Will Allen speak again. His message “energized me to keep moving forward with Urban Oasis Project after its first nine months” when it was just her and Art trying to get others involved. She attended a community food systems workshop at Growing Power in 2009 to learn more. “The work he was doing was so similar to what we were trying to achieve: teach people to grow some of their own food, and increase access to fresh, local produce to be eaten with a day or so after harvest,” she said.

Her commitment to Growing Power’s training didn’t stop after the workshop was over. Melissa explained, “I signed a pledge that I would come back to my community and teach others what I learned there. We have been doing that, but some of it is on hold until we have a place to call our own.”

Market manager Art said their non-profit drew from Will Allen’s work, especially in terms of food justice. Art explained, “He’s the inspiration why we started planting gardens, to create the future leaders of the local food movement, especially in neighborhoods where it’s hard to have access to fresh food. First grow community, then soil, then plants.”

And Miss Shirley, a volunteer who helps at Urban Oasis markets, was thrilled to meet Will. “He’s giving back to his people, he’s giving his time. I learned what soil was made of and how to take care of the earth. And to be grateful for what you have.”

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Food Justice Film Series

On occasion of of National Food Day (October 24), Youth L.E.A.D. and O Cinema present What’s on Your Plate? a critically acclaimed documentary that follows two eleven year old multi-racial city kids over the course of one year as they explore their place in the food chain, and shows their point of view on the growing local food movement in New York.

The film will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011 at 1 pm.


O Cinema
90 NW 29th Street
Miami, FL 33127
(305) 571-9970

To purchase tickets go to: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/2118208619

From 11 am to 4 pm, Urban Oasis Project will have a farmer’s market set up, and the vegan food truck Mac’N will also be there.

This screening is part of the Food Justice Film Series, which focuses on food justice and responsible eating through films, discussions, and food tastings given by local/organic producers. Sponsored by Slow Food Miami.

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Verde Gardens, site of the new  Homestead Harvest Farmer’s Market.

Please join us for the opening of the Homestead Harvest Farmers Market at Verde Gardens!

Friday, July 15th
4:00 to 8:00 pm
12700 SW 280 Street, Homestead, FL 33038

We are celebrating the opening of this beautiful, new building with the first of the Locavore Lounge events — bring some food to share, buy a smoothie from the new juice bar, or shop for local produce at the Farmer’s Market.

This new year-round market is dedicated to improving access to sustainably-grown local food for all and will double EBT benefits for the first $10 spent, and offer a wide variety of organic and sustainably grown products from the region.

In the fall we will start selling produce raised next door at the 22-acre permaculture farm we are now developing at Verde Gardens, as well as inviting in more local farmers to offer their products.

This building will be a center for cooking classes, micro-enterprises creating value-added products, and more with a fully functional commercial kitchen, serving the residents of Verde Gardens and the surrounding communities.

Supported by the Homeless Trust and Carrfour Supportive Housing, operated by Urban Oasis Project and Earth Learning.

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