Dinner for Farmers: Honoring Those Who Grow Our Food
Up at dawn to avoid the sun, working through humidity, packing up produce for farmers markets, dealing with pests and torrential rains and – the life of South Florida's farmers is never easy. That's why Vizcaya Museum and Gardens teamed up with edible South Florida for the second year in a row to honor farmers with a special dinner. Using local produce from the farm, some of South Florida's best chefs and mixologists create dishes and cocktails served under the stars at the Vizcaya Village, the historic part of the original 1916 estate across South Miami Avenue from the main house and gardens. Farmers and guests were invited to follow in James Deering’s steps and fill their plates with local bounty.
This year's Dinner for Farmers, held Jan. 17, also honored local farms for their outstanding achievements in feeding the community.
Food from Farmers – and Student Farmers
Freshly harvested produce – including ginger, citrus, carrots, bananas, greens, edible flowers, strawberries, radishes and cherry tomatoes – was provided by Bee Heaven Farm, Guara Ki Eco Farm, Grow2Heal, Knaus Berry Farm, Little River Cooperative, LNB Groves, Paradise Farms, Ready-to-Grow Gardens, Seasons Farm Fresh, Verde Community Farm and Vizcaya’s Kitchen Garden.
Students from Riverside Elementary and Twin Lakes Elementary created mini taco salad rolls and sweet mashed potatoes with tropical oregano pesto, prepared with the harvest from their school gardens, part of the Edible Gardening Initiatives of The Education Fund.
The first station featured appetizers from Ghee Indian Kitchen, opening soon at Downtown Dadeland. Chef Niven Patel served pani puri, an Indian snack, filled with spicy roast carrots. Fufi’s Restaurant, now open in Buena Vista, featured spinach and beef empanadas. Miami Smokers Andres Barrientos and James Bowers, who create handcrafted charcuterie for their restaurant in Little Havana and at the American Airlines Arena, made bacon-wrapped plantains. Guests enjoyed Old Fashioneds, rum-spiked Strawberry Lemonade and Jordan Wines from Gabe Urrutia in the Piazza.
Guests headed to the huge communal table for family-style platters of dishes create on site by South Florida chefs:
• Chef Melanie Stewart incorporated local greens, strawberries, starfruit, local honey and citrus in a seasonal salad
• Chef Evan Boomer of The Brick American Kitchen & Bar, Downtown Dadeland’s new farm-to-table restaurant, made pan-seared corvina with smoked Gouda grits, pickled tomato salad with radishes, arugula and jalapeño
• Chef Ben Rablat and Sandy Sanches of La Fresa Francesa French Bistro located in the heart of Hialeah, cooked up truffled farro risotto with braised pork belly and fresh radish garnish
Awards for Farmers
In the Farm Quad, guests gathered for this year's awards. Judges include Miami-Dade agricultural manager Charles LaPradd; Johnson and Wales dean of culinary education Bruce Ozga; and Fruit and Spice Park director James Stribling. This year's awards and winners are:
Sowers and Shakers, recognizing innovative and sustainable farming practices: Bee Heaven Farm, an organic farm that offered South Florida's first CSA, the first SNAP/EBT program and set up an annual festival to celebrate the growing season.
Growing Seedlings, honoring farmers who instill in school-age children the love of gardening, nature and healthy food choices through garden-to-table programs: Dylan Terry, Ready-to-Grow Gardens, who has set up hundreds of school gardens as well as edible gardens at local restaurants and businesses.
Homesteader, in recognition of the creative problem-solving that all farmers, like pioneers, need to use when problems crop up: Chuck Lyons, Verde Community Farm and Market, located at the Verde Gardens supportive housing community, where low-income, at-risk individuals work at the farm and weekly market.
Growing It Forward, honoring public participation and engagement with the farm’s mission through educational programming or otherwise: Thi Squire, Grow 2 Heal, Homestead Hospital/Baptist Health, a farm growing vegetables, tropical fruits and herbs for hospital patients, visitors and staff.
Plowing Ahead, recognizing farmers who experiment and adapt with the times, determined to cultivate products and develop markets for them: Robert Is Here, a family business since 1959 that has expanded its business over the years, creating a market for tropical fruits and educating consumers about them.
Companion Planting, celebrating farms that understand urban agriculture as a catalyst for social change and community building, and share those benefits with different segments of their community: Health in the Hood, Asha Loring, where urban gardens are created on lots in food deserts, providing residents with free fresh produce as well as education.
It Takes a Village, honoring those professionals who support farmers: John Mills of Redland Ahead, a nonprofit organization whose programs include helping veterans and underserved community farmers, working with the FIU Agro-Ecology program.
One of the judges, James Stribling, noted that this year's nominees represented a greater range of participation in the farm/food/community/wellbeing continuum. "I have immense respect for the 'True Believers' among us; those who not only feel a connection to the land but are compelled to share that with others for the good of the world at large."