Growing Together with Little River Market Garden

Under last night’s beautiful full moon, Muriel Olivares was transplanting tomatoes with her head lamp.  It was almost 11:00 p.m. when she got in to write me back.  I had many questions!

I had sent intern Renata Herminio over to Muriel’s new Little River Market Garden yesterday to say hello and snap some photos of what’s growing.  We’re buying whatever we can get our hands on lately, from okra to this weekend’s batch of green peanuts fresh out of the ground.  I myself had been meaning to pay her a visit like our foragers, including sous chef Matt, have been, but hadn’t yet made it over.

Muriel's favorite flower, Jolly Jester. She began working in floral design.

She’s in no way new to organic farming or to South Florida (we first met her working for Margie Pikarsky at Bee Heaven) but for the first time, Muriel is starting out on her own with Litter River Market Garden.  What I find so interesting is that, we are the only restaurant with whom she is working, and for good reason.  Focusing on her CSA program, she doesn’t have enough supply yet for the demand i.e. she doesn’t want to entice a chef and then not be able to sell them anything.  So we are acting as both customer and consultant in a way, helping her understand what restaurants like ours want and how that relationship can be successful.  If that’s not collaboration – or smart business – I don’t know what is!

In addition to being featured in Paula Nino’s story on women farmers in the current issue of Edible South Florida magazine, Muriel will be at this weekend’s Edible Garden Festival at Fairchild Tropical Garden. Here’s why you want to be there to meet her.

Can you describe the newspaper pots technique? How did you learn to do that and why is it successful? What is growing in them now?

I came up with the newspaper pot idea myself; it’s inspired by similar techniques I’ve seen in Brazil and Argentina. To make them I use a mold, which can be anything from a bottle or cup to the handle of my pitch fork. I wrap a few sheets of newspaper around the mold, fold the bottom and fill with potting mix. They are great. They don’t cost anything except time, they don’t use up a bunch of plastic and best of all, they hold moisture well and I can plant the entire pot in the ground, which keeps the roots totally undisturbed.  I’ve used them primarily for peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and basil.

Yes, that's Renata's hand. What an intern!

How long have you been using earthworms as part of how you farm? Why is it important to use them for the compost or otherwise? Renata told me about them burrowing into her hand!

There have been worm bins at other farms where I’ve worked, but I didn’t pay too much attention to them back then. Now, on my own farm, I love having them and I’m proud of how healthy they are. I use the worms for collecting the “tea” that they make. It’s a rich black liquid full of microbes and nutrients which drips to the bottom of the bin. I use it to water my plants, both in pots and in the field. Worms also break food waste down very quickly into rich soil. I highly recommend this system for restaurants, apartments or anyone with limited composting space.

The rattlesnake beans are heirloom.. when will they be ready to harvest?

I’m hoping to have beans for Thanksgiving to give to my CSA members, but it might be a week or two after that. I’m growing Rattlesnake, which are striped and purple podded beans, which are a beautiful dark purple, both are heirloom varieties.

Muriel's okra on shrimp and grits pizza in September!

What is our restaurant buying from you now? How is it to work with us?

The restaurant has been buying all of my okra up until about a week ago; the plants got exhausted and I took them out to plant something new. Right now besides the peanuts, there isn’t anything else. I keep in touch with Matt about what is ready; he’s waiting on some hot peppers (India Jwala Hot Peppers) which are coming soon. I love working with you guys and I think Matt is great. I’d like to have him, or any/all of the chefs visit the garden to see for themselves what I have.

Those big green bell gourds you put on the stones to keep from molding… are they good to eat and how would you cook them?

I actually brought one of those gourds to Matt as a sample. They are edible when they are smaller, but the one I brought him, which was similar in size to the one in the picture, was too big for eating. When they mature, they dry hollow and make very durable, water tight vessels. I want to let a few get big for drying, but I’d also like to harvest some for eating. They are common in India and used like zucchini.

Roselle, hibiscus flower, can flavor desserts and drinks.

You’re giving a workshop on drip irrigation at Fairchild’s Edible Garden Festival on Sunday.  Tell me a little bit about what other projects you are working on.

The new South Miami Farmer’s Market starts December 4th on Sunset Dr. off of US1, next to the South Miami City Hall and library. I will be there representing an organization I’m involved with called Community Foodworks. We will be selling 100% local produce, mostly harvested in small urban gardens such as mine. People can join the mailing list on my blog. There are many events such as potlucks and workshops that I’d like to invite everyone to. Soon, I will be sending an email about pizzas and breads for sale, which will be baked in a new wood fired oven at the garden. I also plan to invite everyone to a second (and maybe a third) plant sale. This time, I’ll be focusing on herbs, medicinals and flowers.

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