Posts Tagged ‘Worden Farm’

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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Chris and Eva Worden of Worden Farm in Punta Gorda were recently featured on NBC Nightly News.

Click here for the Nightly News archives page.

Then, go to March 2 and click on the link “Organic Farm Markets Draw Crowds.” The video will pop up in a separate window.

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Freeze damaged heirloom beans, two weeks after the last freeze. Bee Heaven Farm, Jan. 22.

A week later, the freeze damage appears even worse at Bee Heaven Farm. Leaves that were brown last week look almost black and withered. Heirloom pole beans are totally fried. The last of the Gold of Bacau beans sold at market last Sunday. Margie says she’ll replant beans, but it’s going to be a couple months before you see them at market again.

Heirloom tomatoes after the last freeze. Bee Heaven Farm, Jan. 22.

Most of the heirloom tomatoes look pretty rough, too. The leaves of some varieties are completely black and shriveled, and other varieties look just fine. Cold resistance clearly depends on the variety. Most tomato plants dropped green, unripe fruit because of the cold, but enough stayed on the vines for a moderate, hopeful harvest. Irrigation and light fertilizing continues, and it’s wait and see as to how much can be salvaged. “As long as the plant has some green leaves, there’s hope for recovery,” Margie said. She’s also going to replant, but it’ll be a while before there will be more tomatoes at market.

Avocado buds forming two weeks after the freeze.

Some avocado trees got their leaf tips burned by the freeze, but otherwise don’t seem the worse for the wear. They started putting out buds last week. Ideally, the buds will turn into blooms, which when pollinated, will turn into fruit. But time will tell. The freeze could still have a hidden impact on the trees that may show up months later. The blossoms may not form properly, or not set fruit, or drop fruit before it matures. Anything can go wrong, all because of so much harsh cold weather.

Over at Worden Farm, they were affected by the freeze but they are bouncing back, Eva Worden told me. It was very cold for quite a while, with 23 degrees at ground level at the coldest. They had freezing cold weather for 10 days to two weeks, and that abnormally long stretch of cold weather was “definitely record breaking,” according to Eva. In very cold weather, seeds don’t germinate, and plants don’t grow. “They just kinda hang out,” as Eva put it, and that delay pushes back the harvest schedule.

Crops protected by floating row cover. Courtesy of Worden Farm.

Crops were protected with floating row cover. The Wordens and their crew did plant vegetables planning for a freeze to happen (as they get at least one every winter up in Punta Gorda), choosing those that would be minimally affected. Collards, carrots and beets didn’t die from the cold. In fact they will be kissed with sweetness. The cold causes those plants to get a higher sugar concentration. But the warm weather crops — tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil — were destroyed by the extreme cold. The leafy potato tops also died from the cold, and now they are harvesting baby potatoes fast and furious. Worden Farm will have enough for us in Miami in a couple weeks, as things get replanted and start to mature. We might get mostly greens and radishes from them, and maybe those small potatoes.

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Record-breaking cold temperatures rolled in, and a freeze warning was issued for several nights in a row this week. The farmers in Redland scrambled to protect their crops from the freezing cold, but generally fared well. CSA growers located further north — Worden Farms in Punta Gorda, and C&B Farms in Clewiston — got frost damage on Tuesday night. They’re still evaluating how much damage they got, and if any crops were lost.

As a result, there may be less in the share box this Saturday and maybe for the next week or so. Freeze damage is one reason, and less veggies growing is another. “Plants don’t like to grow when it’s cold. They like to go dormant,” grower Dan Howard explained to me. If there’s a killer frost and lettuce (for example) is burned by cold, that’s it, there’s no more local lettuce to eat until it’s replanted and harvested again. Remember, as CSA members, you agreed to share the same risks as the growers! No faking it with lettuce from Belize or somewhere… not in this CSA! (Also, because vegetables were damaged by the cold, or were not ready to pick, there will be less in the stores and the prices will go up.)

Reemay, or floating row cover, protects delicate greens and pole beans against freeze damage.

Margie Pikarsky at Bee Heaven Farm protected delicate basil, heirloom tomatoes, and pole beans with large sheets of Reemay, or floating row cover. It’s a spun polyester fabric that is used to cover plants, much like a blanket. The row cover acts like a blanket to hold in the heat and keep plants warm. Margie added she’s not watering as much, because that runs the risk of plants mildewing, or hot condensation cooking entire plants. Her crops have been covered since the first freeze warnings on Saturday, and the Reemay will stay up until the cold blast forecast for this coming weekend.

On Wednesday afternoon, Dan Howard of Homestead Organics, was cautiously optimistic. “Tuesday night it went down to 33, 34 degrees, but not a killer freeze,” he told me. He had prepared his bean fields by watering them quite extensively during the day on Tuesday. (It’s just too much acreage to use row cover.) Dan explained that his crews “soaked the ground down real good. Water insulates the ground to keep it from getting colder. Well water is 75 degrees, the same temperature year round. Dry ground gets colder than wet ground.” He explained that ground temperature is the most important for the plants, keeps the roots from freezing.

If the temperature gets below 32 for any length of time, plants will become permanently damaged from the cold. “Anything below 32 is bad, and at temps of 28, 29 degrees, it’s a total loss,” Dan explained. Monday night wasn’t that severe because there was a blanket of cloud cover, which acted as insulation and kept the temperatures from dropping too low. Tuesday night the sky was clear and temperatures dropped — but it was windy, and that made a difference. The moving air keeps ice from forming on the leaves. “If there’s no wind and clear sky, you get frost,” Dan said. And frost is what kills plants. It coats the leaves and burns them much like frostbite. Leaves turn black and wilted from the damage and the plant will die. Farmers can knock ice off the plants by spraying fields with water in the middle of the night, Dan explained. That’s why they’re up all night, watching the temps, checking the plants watering in the fields and groves.

In a similar vein, Robert Barnum of Possum Trot Nursery watered his tropical fruit grove on Tuesday night. He has giant pumps to draw well water, and tree-high sprinklers dotted through his grove. Tuesday night temps dropped to 36, and Robert was up at midnight and again at 3 am watering and checking on his trees. He explained that water gives off heat as it freezes, 353 kilocalories per gram of water to be exact, and that bit of heating warms the plants. Once the water on the plant freezes, it keeps the temperature constant at 32 degrees even if air temperatures drop below that, because a heavy coat of ice acts as insulation. But you have to keep watering, he insisted, to keep that small but important heating process going.

By Wednesday night Robert was less optimistic than Dan, and said the thermometer already read 39 degrees at 9 pm. The sky was clear and the winds were dying down. It looked like there would be a killer frost that night. Margie said the temperature dropped hard and fast — and then something unexpected happened. Some light cloud cover rolled in, and those clouds were enough to act like a blanket keeping heat from radiating away from the ground at night. Temps hovered around freezing, then came back up a bit. “I never saw anything like that,” Margie told me. But the main reason why the anticipated killer frost didn’t happen, according to Jonathan Crane at TREC: when the temperature fell to 35 it also reached the dew point. When the temperature meets the dew point, heat is released and the temperature rises, and that is what happened on Wednesday night. (There might have also been a bit of ground fog.) End result, no freeze, and crops were spared — this time. A more severe blast of cold air is forecast for the weekend, and growers (especially to the north of us) are bracing themselves.

To learn more about how frost forms and dew point, take a look at this web page.

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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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