Homestead / South Dade

Paradise Farms in Homestead is up for sale

 

ebenn@MiamiHerald.com

Wearing a pink blouse and brown knee-length skirt, Gabriele Marewski reaches down toward a tidy bed of organic baby greens at her Paradise Farms in Homestead.

She is momentarily distracted by a black-and-white zebra butterfly that flutters over yellow sunn hemp flowers. Then she tilts her head skyward and inhales deeply, taking in her farm’s floral perfume.

“A big part of me is going to hate leaving here,” Marewski said. “I’m savoring every single day, more than ever, because I don’t know how long it’s going to last.”

After 15 years, Marewski is selling Paradise Farms.

Marewski, 59, said she hopes to find a buyer who will continue the organic farming operation with its handful of paid workers and rotating cadre of volunteers, its popular charity dinner series and its bed and breakfast.

“My employees know how to run this farm,” she said. “What I need to do is find someone to carry on, and trust them so that I can let go and move on.”

Moving on means moving north, to Asheville, N.C., where Marewski’s only child, son Max, 23, is in school. She plans to start a new career there in textiles, designing sensible work skirts for farmers like herself.

Actually, Seamless Skirts will be Marewski’s third career change: She worked in sales and for former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson before buying Paradise Farms, 19801 SW 320th St.

In 1999, Marewski paid $86,000 for the five-acre abandoned avocado grove adjacent to her longtime home (she is selling the two-story house along with the farm). She spent tens of thousands more — “every penny I had as a single mom,” she said — tilling the land into South Florida’s premier organic farm.

She put the property on the market for $2.4 million in the fall, but dropped the listing and says she is seeking offers.

Paradise Farms grows herbs, micro greens, tropical fruits, tomatoes, oyster mushrooms and more than 50 kinds of edible flowers for dozens of restaurants in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties.

For years, Marewski did almost all of the work herself, from the hand seeding, weeding and harvesting to twice-weekly deliveries to every restaurant on her roster.

“She’s groundbreaking,” said David Bracha, chef-owner of Miami’s River Seafood & Oyster Bar and Oak Tavern. “Gabriele was pushing the envelope in terms of organic, biodynamic farming before anyone else down here.

“When she showed up at my kitchen years ago, I jumped right on it and haven’t stopped buying her stuff since,” Bracha said. “I evaluate products by taste, and her stuff is simply impeccable.”

After years of working solely with restaurants, Paradise Farms now supplies mushrooms and avocados to Whole Foods and sells its produce on Wednesdays at a pop-up market at Miami Beach’s Sunset Harbour shops.

In 2010, Paradise Farms opened a modest bed and breakfast, with three bungalows amid the avocado, mango and papaya trees as well as guest accommodations on the first floor of Marewski’s home.

“I love when guests come who really connect with the farm, and with us,” she said, sitting at her dining room table with a hand on Pookie, a tan dog that wandered onto her property two months ago and now is part of the family.

“There is no air conditioning here, and” — motioning toward the lush green canopy outside — “this is my TV,” she said. “The guests who are here now, they taught us a new kind of rummy last night. That was so wonderful.”

But it’s the Dinner in Paradise series that established Marewski as South Florida’s preeminent organic farmer. She and Michael Schwartz hatched the idea in 2005 as a way to raise money for Louisiana farmers hurt by Hurricane Katrina.

Every year since, from late fall through April, Paradise Farms has hosted a series of farm-fresh, multi-course meals, cooked by cadres of its chef-customers and served al fresco. The dinners, which benefit various charities, seat 75 and include cocktails and a Marewski-led farm tour, cost $165 a person and are perennial sellouts.

Marewski, a longtime vegetarian and “cheating vegan,” allows chefs to cook fish, but no meat is permitted on Paradise Farms. No cigarette-smoking, either.

“If the next owner wants to change that, they can,” she said. “But I made that rule for the same reason why every door here is painted pink: Because I can.”

Schwartz describes Marewski as “uncompromising,” and says her commitment to quality has improved the South Florida food scene.

“How local agriculture has evolved, and the restaurant community along with it, is truly astonishing,” he said. “A whole new generation of small local farmers has cropped up in her wake. I always say, know your source. And if you know Gabriele, you know it is going to be the best product out there.”

The next Dinner in Paradise event is Jan. 26, with chefs Clay Conley (Buccan in Palm Beach), Cesar Zapota (The Federal) and Kris Wessel. (The complete schedule and reservations are available at paradisefarms.net.)

The last one of the season is scheduled for April 27. Marewski said she plans to be around until then, but expects to give her final Dinner in Paradise farm tour that evening.

“Every time a new group comes in, I tell them, ‘Now you’re in our bubble,’ ” Marewski said. “There’s something magical about this place. It’s like the outside world doesn’t exist.”

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