Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Slow Food Ortiz Market guided visit

Slow Food Southwest Florida Invites you on a culinary journey

What: Explore the fascinating foods at the Ortiz Flea Market with Santiago De Choch

When: 8 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 14

Where: 1501 Ortiz Ave., Fort Myers

Cost: $10 donation, benefits the Slow Food Southwest Florida community garden grants program

RSVP: slowfoodsouthwestflorida@gmail.com

Details: Santiago De Choch, an Argentinean-born world traveler, owner of Green Coaches and a Slow Food Southwest Florida board member, will lead this unique field trip at Lee County’s longest-running flea market, where the primary language is Spanish and the ambience resembles that of a south-of-the-border market. The tour will focus mainly on edible goods, examining what’s local and what isn’t, how it is grown and by whom. Learn about nopalitos, the edible pads of the prickly pear cactus; fruit known as quenepas; sugarcane and Mexican ice cream, among other things. Sample tacos al pastor, pan dulce and purchase fresh corn tortillas. You’ll also have a chance to shop at stands offering sombreros and boots, plants and piƱatas, religious items, CDs and a host of other items.

Don’t delay! This event is limited to the first 20 people who sign up. We expect a waiting list and Santiago has graciously volunteered to conduct additional trips in the next couple of months, if demand warrants.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

SW FL ready to lead in biofuel production

As the terrible, ongoing BP Deepwater Horizon spill painfully reminded us, we've played sorcerer's apprentice too long when it comes to fossil fuels. We've based our entire lifestyle around them, starting with coal during the Industrial Revolution, and getting addicted to cheap, plentiful oil in the 20th century.
This addiction has gone out of control. The environmental consequences are nothing short of catastrophic. Geopolitically, we're bogged down in long, costly wars that only the criminally naive believe are motivated by vagaries such as 'bringing democracy to the Arab world'. We are in bed with hostile, backward regimes, such as Saudi Arabia's or Nigeria's, because we need their light sweet crude. And above all, as the reality of Peak Oil becomes more and more apparent, we are realizing that hey, the stuff is running out anyway, and no amount of 'drill, baby, drill' is going to change that.
That's why it makes me so proud to see glimmers of the old American can-do spirit in local entrepreneurs Harold 'Lee' Crews and Susan MacFarlan, who are working hard to make our part of the world a leader in biofuels research and production.
A quick note to explain that biodiesels are different from ethanol in many respects. They are made from dedicated crops - thus, not competing with food crops such as corn or sugar cane - pressed rather than distilled, and their oils used on a wide range of diesel engines.
Lee and Susan, along with Extension Agent Roy Beckford and others, have been researching biofuel crops, including Jatropha Curcus, Pongamia Pinnata, Camelina, Canola, and others, for a long time, and are now moving out of the research phase and getting ready to go into production, as the $3M processing facility behind the State Farmers' Market on Edison proves.
In addition to the machinery and storage tanks there, you'll find rows of experimental crops in different stages of development. Local producers of organic fertilizers, like Bob Donnelly and Billy Sol, have teamed up with Lee and Susan to make the unthinkable happen: growing our own energy in an environmentally friendly fashion, locally, and processing it right here. Many area farmers are starting to dedicate part of their acreage to this project, as Lee Crews manages a difficult act - finding the funding for the facility, making sure the necessary crops will be there when we need them, exploring potential markets, and much more.
Lee Crews and Susan MacFarlane are in tune with the future, and are true visionaries that deserve our support. I encourage everyone who is 'mad as hell' at the BP spill to redirect their energies in a positive way - for example, by getting interested in what's going on with biofuel research right here and supporting Lee and Susan's work in any way you can, by volunteering, by helping them find local farmers to grow the stuff, by promoting them, by putting whatever skills you may have at their disposal.
Susan's website, Agri-Fuel Feedstocks, is here. Florida Department of Agriculture's website is here, or you can email Lee at crewsh@doacs.state.fl.us or call 239-332-6910. There's a few pictures of my visit to the facility here. I must thank these friends for taking the time to show me around, answer my questions, and even giving me some Jatropha plants to grow at my farm.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An island, revisited

One of the things I remember from my younger years is being obsessively into Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), best known for his novel Brave New World, a dystopia of control over the individual and crass commercialism. The fact that The Doors of Perception was a companion of many travels, tucked inside my backpack, should say something about my interests back then. But there's a third book by this great author, Island, that hasn't received as much attention as the other two I mentioned.
Island was published in 1962, shortly before Huxley's death. It deals with ecological problems, like pollution and overpopulation, and proposes ways by which an enlightened, truly free people could overcome them. In that sense, it's about balance, making the right compromises between technology and respect for nature, personal freedom and the welfare of the community, the ying and the yang.
Balance is what came to mind when visiting Michael Wallace's Pine Island farm again, a few days ago. The right compromises. A lot of the work is done by hand by Mike and a handful of volunteers, but there's an orange Kubota tractor parked somewhere, ready for action. Most of the produce is grown using organic methods, but seeking an USDA certification would impose such an effort on the small farm, that it's not even discussed. Fine, one of a kind gourmet herbs and vegetables are grown, but without forgetting our tropical staples: sweet potatoes, peppers, mangoes, papayas. And so on and so forth.
Island, the novel, had a lot of Eastern, Oriental elements to it, as does Island Botanicals, the farm: from farmer Mike's fascination with design elements from the Far East, to the large Ling tree and clusters of mature bamboo everywhere, used for trellises and light construction.
In another post a while ago, I mentioned how much I respect Mr Wallace's approach to growing food in this part of the world, and what a great place his domain is; I won't go there again, but I wanted to add that Mike Wallace is one of the few local farmers I know who is making a serious effort at widening the range of what can be grown here in the summer, a tricky season in South Florida. Efforts have been underway to increase the area under shade, new and old crops are being tried, and hopes are high for the upcoming hot months.
Island Botanicals brings vegetables, herbs, fruit, microgreens and fresh eggs to the GreenMarket every Saturday morning, and has built a loyal clientele that keeps coming back for more. So there's another ying and yang there, I guess: making a decent living and conducting a business successfully, without losing touch with the soil, the ultimate realities of toiling under the sun to slowly create a meal out of a seed or a cutting... and keeping a healthy sense of humor in the process. Hard to achieve all this, but not impossible, as this Pine Island farmer proves Saturday in and Saturday out.
Don't forget to check out some pictures of Mike's farm during a recent visit here, or to visit the Alliance for the Arts every Saturday morning to see what's growing in Pine Island.

Monday, April 26, 2010

GreenMarket News

Exciting things happening at the GreenMarket! The GreenMarket at the Alliance of the Arts will stay open through the summer, offering fresh local products to residents and visitors, including: locally caught fish, local honey and eggs, fresh fruit, herbs and produce, bread and baked goods, plants, organic fertilizers and garden supplies, organic skin care products, non-toxic household cleaners, gourmet cheeses, chocolate, and coffee, as well as t-shirts, pottery and handicrafts.

New summer hours starting in June will be 8am to 12 noon. The GreenMarket provides plenty of shade under the old mango trees, it's kid friendly, with many free artistic and educational activities oriented towards the little ones, and pet friendly as well. Live music is played on select Saturdays, and customers are welcome to visit the art exhibits at the Alliance of the Arts building and the various shows and activities at the amphitheater area, on the other side of the main building.

We're proud to announce that all 4 farms with a presence at the GreenMarket plan on bringing fresh, locally grown produce, herbs and fruit during the difficult growing season of the Summer, in the months of June through September. These are all bona-fide growers, receive periodical inspection visits and have been bringing 100% locally grown veggies, some of them using organic methods, although not USDA organic certified.

In addition to seasonal Florida staples such as avocado and mango, the GreenMarket growers plan to have a variety of produce available: heat-resistant Everglades tomatoes, egglplants, peppers, okra, zucchini, yams, leaf vegetables, Muscadine grapes and more, in addition to a variety of herbs both freshly cut and potted. Microgreens (sprouts) are available as well. For a limited time, the GreenMarket will allow some non-local produce, clearly labeled and not imported, to supplement any shortages of locally grown staples. The main focus of the GreenMarket continues to be providing a suitable venue for connecting local farmers with socially and environmentally-conscious buyers, as well as fresh food enthusiasts.

The GreenMarket continues to spearhead efforts to turn Lee County's attention towards more sustainable practIces, encouraging the recycling of used cell phones and printer cartridges as well as paper and plastic, glass and aluminum containers.

Another area the GreenMarket is bringing innovation is in the availability of 100% organic worm tea as a bio-fertilizer. The compost tea is safe to use on any plants, both on roots and as a foliar, even during the rainy season, when City and County ordinances prohibit the use of chemical fertilizers. This bio-fertilizer increases growth and yields significantly. This compost tea is locally produced during the week, and customers are very welcome to bring their own gallon or half-gallon reused milk and juice jugs - this ensures a lower price for the product, and limits the proliferation of plastic containers, in however limited a capacity. Local gardeners and farmers strongly endorse this product, and everybody is encouraged to take home free samples of the compost tea and check out the results for themselves.

Finally, Sloan-Greaner Enterprises, GreenMarket's authorized Wow Green environmentally friendly cleaning products vendor, announces USDA Organic certification for its line of organic skin care products. With the use of these gentle and minimally processed creams and ointments, you leave a number of noxious chemical out of the equation of personal and skin care. All organic skin care products are available as samples in small sized containers, ensuring the customer has the ability to select what works best for her.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sunrise Citrus joins GreenMarket

I'm looking at a press clipping from 1978 that features Bob ("a farmer from Arkansas") and Anna ("a Boston college student") Waite, then spending their second winter in SW FL, growing and selling citrus. Amazingly, they have changed little since then. And they are still growing and selling citrus, plus avocados, tropical fruit, and vegetables, 30+ years later.
Navel and red navel, Hamlin, AmberSweet, Pineapple and Valencia oranges; Fallglo, Dancy, Sunburst and Punkan tangerines; White, Pink, Ruby Red, Asian Pummelo, and Star Red Ruby grapefruits; and Mayer and Bearss lemons are part of what Sunrise Citrus (and associated growers, as they are a co-op) are bringing to the GreenMarket. You may be interested in seeing some pictures of their operation here.
Journalist Drew Sterwald of the News-Press wrote a story recently ('Tangerine Tango', 12/2/09) that presents a nice overview of the citrus industry in SW FL, including a bit about history, recipes, etc, focusing on tangerines. About the Waites, he says that "since they bought their land in 1983 and turned it into a farm, they've lost half of an annual crop to hurricanes, survived the threat of citrus canker and seen acres and acres of SW FL farmland swallowed by development."
Haven't we all seen so much good land swallowed by 'growth'... that's one of the reasons it's so important to support local farmers, to make it worth their while to farm, creating long-lasting relationships with the land, knowing that they and their families will still be there 10, 20, 30 years from now.
Talking heads and free market hacks talk about protectionism like it's a bad thing, but I think there should be a lot more tariffs and taxes for imported goods, especially imported fruit and produce.
During my travels when I was younger, I had an opportunity to see some agricultural practices in Mexico and elsewhere, and they are dismal, with no regards for workers' rights or the environment. If we let all that produce into our supermarkets to pay a few pennies less and make the fat cats a big profit, then we need to understand that there's hidden costs to cheap asparagus and oranges: near-slavery conditions, polluted land and streams, and unhealthy produce that tastes like cardboard from being picked too early.
And it works both ways: farmers in Central America who have been growing corn and beans for the local markets, using organic methods and heirloom varieties for many generations, get pushed out by the subsidized, cheap prices of giant industrial agriculture concerns in the US and their Monsanto genetically modified frankencrops. A whole way of life is lost forever, just like a way of life is lost here in Florida every time some greedy moron decides to bulldoze a citrus grove to build a gated community or a shopping plaza.
It's happening everywhere, and it's our responsibility to do what we can to stop the trend. One thing I found I have in common with the Waites is that we are all former kibbutz (Hebrew word for “communal settlement”) volunteers. They spent time in Kfar Blum, in the Golan Heights, I was a volunteer in Yakum, near Netanya on the coast, and an Israeli friend tells me that real estate deals and the older generations passing away are slowly putting an end to the whole kibbutzim dream. To think of the avocado and citrus groves where I spent some of the happiest moments of my youth being replaced by shopping and factories is beyond sad.
So I guess in that sense I'm a conservative: I want to keep whatever's good that previous generations have left us. Fruit groves are unquestionably good. They are good in Florida, good in Israel, good in Brazil. It's true that sometimes it makes more economic sense to raze them to the ground and build Chucky Cheeses in their place; that's the more reason to not let economics rule our lives. We need a more holistic approach, one that incorporates not just what's good for the economy, but also what's good for the land, and what's good for future generations.
I'm very happy that Bob and Anna's Sunrise Farms have joined the GreenMarket at the Alliance for the Arts, and wish them much success there!