On a recent morning in Little Haiti, geese honk, a rooster crows, and a goat named Michelle Jordan pokes around the kitchen of the Earth N' Us Farm, two acres of enchanted tropical forest, vegetable gardens, fantastic tree houses, honeycombs, and compost heaps hidden behind an unassuming wooden fence. Brother-and-sister-homesteaders Ray and Shawneee Chasser sell honey, firewood, and candles from the self-sustainable farm, where they've lived for almost two decades, along with their father, their adopted Haitian daughter, and the occasional tenant. The family has made it easy for inner-city children to get back to the land. They host environmental field trips for area public-school students, so they can learn about the native flora that has been covered over by concrete elsewhere in the neighborhood, and observe the peaceful cohabitation of emu and hogs, an iguana and guinea hens.
For the past two years, the farm has also been the site for Operation Green Leaves' Fêt Champêt, a daylong music festival and Earth Day celebration. Miami's answer to Woodstock, the third annual event takes place this Saturday. The musical lineup features seminal Haitian roots band Boukman Eksperyans (see "Music"), plus local Haitian artists Lucky Pierre, Ayabonmbe, Foula, and Loray Mystik, Brazilian singer Angela Patua, and the Miami-based Cuban folkloric dance troupe Ifé-Ilé. Stands selling food and crafts will be set up outside the farm's entrance on NE First Avenue.
"The idea of a fêt champêt (a rustic celebration) goes back to parties organized by slaves in rural Haiti who would bring the produce from the fields where they work, eat, play music, and dance," explains Nadine Patrice, executive director of Operation Green Leaves (OGL), while giving a tour of the farm's animal pens and huge gumbo- limbo tree. "Each village in Haiti still has a fêt every August. Since we can't go there, we do it here."
Operation Green Leaves was founded in 1991 by a group of Haitians and Americans to combat severe deforestation and other environmental problems in that nation. Since then the organization hasdonated thousands of seeds and seedlings for Haitian's pine forests. OGL has sponsored environmental education programs for children in Haiti, and has done the same in Miami, setting up Junior Green Leaves Clubs in elementary and middle schools in the Little Haiti area. The ten-dollar admission (five for children) for the festivities will go toward future environmental efforts. "We're trying to promote the music and culture of Haiti and we also want to give back to the environment," says Patrice, standing at the back door of the farmhouse, near a sign that reads: "If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention." She predicts the crowd at this year's fêt will exceed the 400 people who attended last year. "This is a win-win situation."