Margie Pikarsky barely remembers the last time she took a real vacation. It was 2010, and while on the way to drop her daughter off at college in upstate New York, she and the family meandered through Delaware, western Pennsylvania, and the Empire State's vast western reaches.
Besides that, she's been on Bee Heaven Farm, slowly gathering dirt under her fingernails. Now, after almost 15 seasons of running Miami's best-known organic growing operations and its community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, Pikarsky, age 64, is looking to pass the hulking operation on to someone so she can concentrate on other projects and perhaps take that long-awaited trip to the Canary Islands to visit family.
"I want to have more time to grow our events, do seasonal things like our seedling sale, and not be so tied to the farm," she says. "I'd like to find somebody reliable and interested enough to take over, and I still would be happy to be involved in an advisory capacity."
Yet pickings are slim. Despite providing the rest of the county a cornucopia of industrial produce during the winter months, Miami-Dade's organic farmers are few and far between. So much so that Gabriele Marewski's Paradise Farms has been up for sale for nearly three years, but so far no one is willing to purchase her five-acre tract and business in Homestead.
"The sad reality is rent and land are so expensive here that unless we think outside the box to create ways to continue to farm here, especially for the small farms, we're going to lose it to developers," Pikarsky says.
She purchased the five-acre Homestead plot in 1995, and it became a certified organic farm in 1997. In 2000, the farm produced its first avocado crop and launched its CSA the following year with 12 subscribers. Over the years, that number ballooned to more than 500 but has since pared back to about 200 as buying groups, other CSAs, and farmers' markets (good and bad), have proliferated throughout South Florida.
"We should be higher, but people don't know how to cook anymore, they don't have time, or they don't want to," Pikarsky says. "Especially working families, they only have time for what's convenient."
She says climate change is already altering South Florida's agricultural mix, and many farms expect to become more tropical in the years ahead. It was evident last year, when unusually heavy rains flooded many organic farms. What's more is that rising land prices make it increasingly enticing for farmers to sell their holdings to developers. Don't think Miami's boom-and-bust real-estate industry is limited to places like Brickell.
"Houses are a one-time crop, and they don't produce anything — they’re consumers," Pikarsky says. "When we’re consumers, we’re 100 percent dependent on the outside world, and that's dangerous."
But she hasn't given up hope. One of Pikarsky's major projects after transitioning out of the CSA's day-to-day will be expanding the annual Redland GrowFest, which will be held this weekend at the Fruit & Spice Park. In addition to offering local food vendors, park tours, and educational talks, the festival will feature Pikarsky hosting her annual seedling sale, so you can get a jump on growing your tomatoes, herbs, and other vegetables for the season.
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SHOW ME HOW
This is the weekend to get your garden in order. Little River Cooperative's Tiffany Noe and Muriel Olivares will be on hand to host another seedling sale Saturday and Sunday at 115 NE 76th St. in Little Haiti. On offer will be more than a dozen kinds of cherries, five eggplant varieties, more than a half-dozen sweet peppers, and dozens of herbs and greens.
The future of farming, it seems, might depend upon you. And if you decide to get serious, give Pikarsky a call.