Originally posted on Huffington Postfor
Who Grows Our Food is an occasional Meatless Monday series taking a close look at some of the people, so often unsung, who give us the food on our plates.
Who Grows Our Food: Miami GROW
Along the grey knot of expressway engirding Miami International Airport, you’ll find row upon row of warehouses, industrial sites … and small spot of green. It’s Miami GROW (Green Railroad Organic Workshop), a three-acre urban farm producing vegetables, herbs and micro greens.
Miami GROW got its start in 2008 when Thi (pronounced TEE) Squire wanted to change her life. “I wanted to be involved in a greener lifestyle — literally,” she says. “I have kids. I started reading more about food production and chemicals. My children’s school friends were overweight, and I was thinking, how can I make an impact, make a change in my community?”
The farm, then an abandoned, debris-littered site, wasn’t the most obvious solution. It’s dwarfed by warehouses, abuts a major expressway and is in a less than lovely part of town. It would send most people driving away in a screech of tires and a spray of gravel. “It’s such a bizarre thing to want to do,” Squire admits. “People said, ‘You can’t grow food here.’ We said, ‘What do you mean? That’s just silly.’” Growing food in limited space is one of the great challenges of our day, and Miami GROW takes it on.
First, though, the farm had to confront zoning and environmental issues. Miami GROW is certified organic. Traditional planting would be impossible, with industrial chemicals from surrounding warehouses compromising the soil. What others might see as limiting, GROW embraces as liberating. The staff of ten grows food in pots and flats. If a crop isn’t flourishing, they shift it elsewhere on the property, offering it more shade or more light. This is much harder to do when your plants are in the ground.
Miami GROW supplies Rock Garden, a national fresh herb distributor, which has a facility conveniently next door. They’re not just neighbors, they’re partners committed to “sustainability, community outreach and urban agriculture,” says Squire. “Rock Garden is the primary sponsor of GROW. They get kudos. No other produce company is doing this.”
The farm focused solely on herbs at first, from basil “the #1 seller of all time” to interesting lesser-knowns, such as chervil and chocolate mint. Recently, though, Miami GROW acquired ten organic acres of farmland outside the city in rural Homestead. More space lets the farm try growing more and different crops.
“I started experimenting with vegetables,” says Squire. “We’ve had great success with lettuce.” Lettuce has always done well in Florida, but in recent years, California has taken over the commercial market. Very nice, but not so local if you live on the east coast. Miami GROW is bringing back some of Florida’s lettuce luster, and is also growing micro greens, nutrient-intense and eater-friendly greens and herbs harvested when they’re just a week or two old.Buy local. Learn basic cooking skills. Eat well. Click To Tweet
In addition to growing food, the farm grows community. Its outreach program GROW Your Lunch invites students to be part of a whole educational, edible experience. “They come for a field trip, help us harvest, and we make lunch here. We show them how.” Squire provides a few kitchen basics, and taking the freshly picked produce and herbs, the class makes lunch for 40. “It’s fresh, not processed, and they had a hand in it,” says Squire. “It’s a really great experience, not just for the kids but for the adults who come with them.”
The class takes home a simple recipe for fresh salsa or salad dressing. They also take away a simple recipe for the greener life Miami GROW has helped create — “Buy local. Learn basic cooking skills. Eat well.”