Miami Farmers' Markets Nearing Their Peak, Finally

It's prime time to visit farmers' markets in Miami. And that means getting out at an unusually early weekend hour while clutching a cup of coffee and eyeing the best of what South Florida's farms offer during the height of the winter growing season.

Yet this year has been a freakish challenge. Extreme, unpredictable weather has washed out crops or prevented farmers from sowing new ones. 

Still, that's no reason to be discouraged. The Upper Eastside Farmers Market (Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) is one of the finest no-nonsense spots. Among the handful of vendors is Little River Cooperatives' Muriel Olivares, setting up crates of vegetables for her CSA members while also laying out bunches of greens and knobby kohlrabi. She and Tiffany Noe lost nearly 80 percent of their farm during the recent deluge, but one plot on high ground survived. "We happened to have cabbages up there, frisées, edible flowers, kohlrabi, nasturtium, and a lot of our herbs and lemongrass," she said. On a recent Saturday, Little River had a few bunches of radishes, Cubanelle peppers, and cabbage for sale.

Also on display at the Upper Eastside Farmers Market were wares from Homestead's Verde Community Farm & Market. The 22-acre farm (of which only about seven acres are planted at the moment) sits east of the Turnpike, near the Homestead Air Reserve Base and on higher ground that most of the other farms in South Dade. Its location saved the crop from much of the devastating flooding that has torn through South Florida in recent months, but that hasn't spared the produce from fungus. As long as the rains hold off, expect Verde to up its output of nightshades like eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers, which usually thrive during the region's more temperate winter months.

"Most of the stuff we grow here on our farm tends to be more cooler-weather crops that a lot of people in Homestead and the Redlands aren’t growing," farm director Chuck Lyon said while sitting at the outdoor café that adjoins Verde's farm. "It's a little riskier because it does get hotter, but we're trying to provide the type of stuff that most people don't grow."

Back on the Upper Eastside, they had carted in a hefty of display of greens spanning collards, kale, bok choy, and some of the mustard greens that are beginning to be harvested. 

Yet the offerings from Margie Pikarsky's Bee Heaven at the Pinecrest Gardens Farme's Market (Sundays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) weren't quite as bountiful. The heavy rains delayed planting, but that didn't mean she didn't have anything for the crowds. She and a handful of farms stretching from here west across the state, including Warden Farms in Punta Gorda, partner to supply one another with local, organic vegetables when needed. On a recent Sunday, there was no shortage of broccoli, greens, French breakfast and watermelon radishes, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.

"The soil was destroyed," Pikarsky said. "We're literally just starting now."

Tuesday: Extreme weather pushes South Florida's organic farmers to the brink.

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