This series of posts is about farmers. About how product grown by seasoned hands, through sustainable techniques, tastes better – a lot better – and is better for you. And my interest in supporting and spreading the word about the people doing it, so they can keep doing it. I won’t be taking sides or wagging a disapproving finger at mass food distribution practices, because I’m currently not in a position to speak fluently on the industry. What I will do is pull back the curtain to offer a first-hand account of where the food we eat comes from – in this case, local produce. It’s because I have the time and desire to do so. And hopefully it will help us make more informed decisions about what we choose to patronize and put on our tables at home or in restaurants – and learn a thing or two to take with us the next time we’re in the grocery store.
That’s why I went down to visit Teena Borek in Homestead yesterday. She is the local farmer supplying fresh produce for a pilot community supported agriculture (CSA) program for which I, and more than 60+ people in South Florida, have signed up so far, since the initial email announcement went out on Tuesday. You may have seen it mentioned in the newspaper on Thursday. If successful, the 30 day test, brainchild of Ariana Kumpis, a South Florida member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and food entrepreneur, will pave the way for a more robust offering in the fall when the growing season picks up again. Michael Bittel of Sunset Corners Fine Wines & Spirits (8701 Sunset Drive Miami, FL 33173, ph: 305 271 8492 fax: 305 271 5390) has generously offered his time and square footage at his store to receive the fresh product that will be delivered on a weekly basis for participants to collect. The only remaining challenge is getting the food from the farm to the store, and Teena and team are currently sourcing delivery vehicles and helpers to make the weekly trek.
With a farm named “Teena’s Pride,” Teena herself is a humble artisan gracefully working her craft to perfection. The farm is about 25 miles southwest of Coral Gables, and you need only hop on the Florida Turnpike and you’re there in under an hour. Born in the Canadian maritime province of Newfoundland of Irish and Polish decent, Teena came to Florida in the ‘70s and has cultivated the family business since then, with the help of her two sons. She was even the only female farmer in Dade at one point.
It’s nearing the end of the season, and Teena has opened the farm on the weekends where she allows the public to visit the property to see how it’s cared for, and to taste and buy her product directly. She explains that, not only does it help people better understand the genesis of the foods they eat, but $1.00 per pound as opposed to about $2.00 in the store is a great value for the majority of us with shrinking budgets. Teena herself is there 11am-4pm on Saturdays and 11am-3pm on Sundays, through Easter (the main growing season begins during Thanksgiving,) and she is considering a summertime extension when the herbs are still abundant. Teena mentions that buyers come to the property sourcing produce for their roster of local restaurants. Certain restaurants, like the late Norman’s, used to send chefs to the farm to get in direct contact with the land and familiarize themselves with the product they were using in dishes as it was being grown. And for creative inspiration. These days, this practice isn’t occuring as often.
On the way to the office and packing facility, we enter the farm turning down a dirt road lined with fields of tomatoes, which I find out are Teena’s favorite product at the farm. They grow 15 heirloom varieties, meaning they are seeds with history, most coming over from the old world, that each has a unique taste. It also means they are more susceptible to disease than the regular hybrid variety. They also have a distinctive lumpiness about about them, which I think adds character, and a softer skin. Teena tells me that by law she is not able to ship heirlooms out of state, only the perfectly round common tomato. In addition to tomatoes, there are bell and hot peppers, greens and lettuces, herbs and eggplant. They are increasingly using hydroponic growing methods on the 25 (once 1000) acre facility, lined with rows of greenhouses. And they protect crops using green chemistry, like organic pesticides, as part of their committment to a sustainable agriculture program. You know when you get back from a trip to Italy or the like, and the same foods just don’t taste the same when you get home? Well, the taste you are yearning for is the kind of taste I’m talking about, right here in our back yards.
To sign up for the Teena’s Pride CSA or to inquire about opportunities where volunteers may be needed, please email email@example.com. Here are the details on the spring test:
– You can buy a full vegetable share for $40.00 or a half share for $25.00 per week. You must commit, paying up front for four weeks. In summary, a four week’s full vegetable share is $160.00 ($40 a week) prepaid to Teena’s, and a four week half vegetable share is $100.00 ($25 a week) prepaid to Teena’s. All orders must be placed by Monday, March 9.
– Weekly drop off dates are March 12, 19, 26 and April 2. Every Thursday your ‘share’ will be available for pick up by 1pm at Sunset Corners. There will be a box there, with your name on it, in the walk in cooler. Last pick up is Friday by 9pm. If you miss picking it up, boxes will go to charity.
– You don’t get to order specific product assortment, rather you’ll receive a ‘share’ of whatever is ready for picking.
– A typical full share would include: A box of arugula, 3-4 bags of Fresh herbs (i.e: chives, cilantro, lemon grass, oregano, thyme, etc.), ½ lb salad spring mix, 4-6 hydroponic bell peppers, 4 hot peppers, 2 lbs vine ripe heirloom tomatoes, 2 boxes mini tomatoes (red and yellow teardrop and sungold) and 2 lbs regular tomatoes
Next installment, a trip to the produce section at Whole Foods Market where we will check out what’s available in the Coral Gables/South Miami store from local sources, as well as talk with store experts. I will also provide updates on how the CSA test is going, including more detail on the specific products (their names, tastes, etc.) and suggestions of what to make with them. I plan to develop some creative ways to maximize my half share (so they don’t go to waste although Teena tells me you can expect a better shelf life than what you’d find with regular grocery produce) and will share recipes, as well.