On a Monday morning last July, a group of 100, maybe 150, people gathered in a room at Miami-Dade College’s Wolfson Campus for the first Greater Everglades Community Food Summit.
“This gathering is a historic occasion,” conference organizer Mario Yañez said in his opening. “It marks the beginning of a true local food movement.”
Over two days, this group of people – farmers, teachers, journalists, gardeners, and non-profit representatives – with a common interest in food brainstormed about how to improve our access to local food.
The discussion wasn’t just about how to get local produce to a farmer’s market. It looked at the bigger picture: creating a distribution network for farmers, providing training to aspiring farmers and building community around food.
I left impressed with the people I met and happy with my five-pound bag of lychees from Mario’s trees. I signed up for the project’s social network (which has grown quite a bit since the conference) and I continued to watch (I should’ve been getting more involved but that’s another story).
A few days ago I talked to Mario and well, a lot of exciting things have happened since that morning in July.
There’s now a South Florida Food Policy Council. It launched on October 7 with 15 leaders and 30 members. In Mario’s words, “the council aspires to track, connect, coordinate and advocate for local food initiatives in South Florida.”
A new year-round, farmer’s market is coming to South Miami on December 4. Earth Learning, Mario’s organization, will operate it with the City of South Miami and the South Miami Green Task Force. It will run on Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the City Hall parking lot. “The market will promote everything local, a marketplace for fresh, healthy, local foods, and a space for a resurgence of home‐grown, well‐informed, active residents and community groups who want to shape a sustainable future for their community.”
Earth Learning also received a $750,000 USDA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Grant for three years starting October 1. The grant will fund a project called Community FoodWorks, which will train beginning farmers in sustainable agriculture and permaculture so that they can run prosperous farms. Mario expects about 150 people to go through the 6-month program over the three years.
And last but not least, students from the UM School of Architecture’s Design/Build program are designing and building the Mobile PermaKitchen (a sustainable mobile certified kitchen). Earth Learning will use it for training, workshops, demos and special events. It will also loan it to small farmers so that they can prepare and preserve farm produce for the market.
There’s definitely much more going on in South Florida than sometimes meets the eye. And these are just a few of the things that Earth Learning and groups formed through the Greater Everglades Summit are working on. There are so many others to look forward to: Roots in the City will reopen in November; due to demand, the Pinecrest Farmers Market will open earlier (Nov. 7) and run later this year (May); chefs are working with schools to plant gardens; more sustainable businesses are popping up … I think it’s fair to say that we’re seeing progress.
To get involved with the Greater Everglades Food Shed Project, join their social network.