Muriel Olivares and Tiffany Noé: Plant People

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In this week's Miami New Times, we profile 30 of the most interesting characters in town, with portraits of each from photographer Stian Roenning. See the entire Miami New Times People Issue here.

Muriel Olivares and Tiffany Noé stroll through carefully potted rows of herbs, seedlings, and flowers under a stretched plastic roof spider-webbed with PVC pipes attached to sprinklers. Nearby is a sculpted garden space where adult plants grow in shaded, carefully mulched patches.

Four months ago, this small plot a few blocks west of Biscayne Boulevard on NE 76th Street was a weed-choked, abandoned lot. Now it's the latest piece of Olivares and Noé's diverse, expanding Little River Cooperative. It's Miami's most eclectic and exciting venture in urban food cultivation and education.

But don't call Olivares and Noé farmers.

"Calling us farmers, you'd think we're waking up and feeding our chickens and milking our cows and there are like rolling acres," Noé says. "Really, this is so much different."

"It's much more social than the average farm job," Olivares adds.

True, both learned their trade on farms. Olivares, who was born in Argentina and moved to Miami as a child, attended New World School of the Arts before finding her calling during an internship at an organic farm. Noé, a South Florida native, followed a similar path from fine arts to farms, spending six years managing an art gallery in Berlin before sparking her new passion while working as a volunteer on French organic farms.

"My art-world people were like, 'Wait, you're taking your summer vacation to do what? Manual labor in France?'" she laughs.

Olivares began with a small urban farm in Little Haiti in 2010 and later expanded to a three-acre plot in North Dade. Noé, meanwhile, opened her own downtown nursery, Plantmatter, and collaborated on Forager, a recent book about Dade's edible wild plants.

This year they joined forces to create the Little River Cooperative. Their core mission is clear enough: With combined operations, they now produce locally grown fruits and vegetables for 52 members of their community-supported agriculture group as well as several local restaurants.

But they're also exploring everything from helping restaurants open rooftop plots to collaborating on art and landscape projects. They're planning a new series of workshops and classes at their nurseries and might eventually expand to include other urban farms and gardens.

"It's trying to think outside the box of what we can do and what we want to do with these plants," Olivares says. "We're totally open to using plants for creative projects, not just food projects."

So if not farmers, what to call the green-thumbed pair?

"Really," Noé says, "we're plant people."

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