On weekends, the produce section of your neighborhood grocery store can look and feel as cluttered as rush hour on Miami’s highways.
Aggressive fellow shoppers will cut you off as they grab for fruits and vegetables. In your haste to get out of there in one piece, you’re likely to fill your cart with tomatoes from Canada, limes from Mexico, lettuce from California and avocados from Chile.
Out-of-state produce is often picked prematurely in order to survive such long hauls, hampering its quality and flavor. That model also cuts out of the supply chain a number of local farms that grow the same items fewer than 50 miles from downtown Miami.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Organic, local and sustainable food — buzzwords that foodies have obsessed over in recent years — has never been easier to access than it is now, thanks in large part to the growth of farmers markets. (Grocers like Publix, Winn-Dixie, Whole Foods and Fresh Market also stock and promote Florida-grown produce, an effort that continues to gain visibility.)
In the past five years, the number of farmers markets in the United States has increased by 76 percent, and more than two-thirds of the driving population lives within 15 minutes of at least one, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Farmers markets play an extremely important role for both farmers and consumers,” USDA spokeswoman Anne Alonzo said. “They bring urban and rural communities together while creating economic growth and access to fresh, healthy foods.”
And people like Art Friedrich are committed to keeping locally grown food accessible and affordable to all. As head of the Urban Oasis Project, a Miami-based nonprofit, Friedrich makes it his mission to connect farmers and eaters.
At the Upper Eastside Farmers Market, which Friedrich helps organize every Saturday at Legion Park, vendors accept EBT cards that allow low-income recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) to buy local fruits and veggies for half price. Other local markets also participate in the discount, provided by Florida Organic Growers.
“Most people have been really grateful and excited to get such a good deal on their produce,” Friedrich said. “They’re on such a limited budget.”
As South Florida moves into its peak growing season, now is a prime time to get to know your local markets and farmers. Friedrich recommends talking with the people on the other side of the farm stands to find out what’s in season, what the best values are, and how to prepare new-to-you ingredients.
The experience should be more rewarding, and less stressful, than elbowing your way to a bin of Chilean avocados.
“There is beauty in getting to know where your food comes from,” Friedrich said, “finding out how it’s grown, and really developing a relationship with what we use to nourish our bodies.”
5361 NW 22nd Ave. (Jesse Trice Community Health Center), Miami; urbanoasisproject.org.
3300 Grand Ave., Coconut Grove; 305-238-7747 or glaserorganicfarms.com.
10901 Old Cutler Rd., Miami; 305-531-0038 or themarketcompany.org.
101 NW First St. (Metrorail Station), Miami; urbanoasisproject.org.
1300 Miller Dr., Coral Gables; 305-531-0038 or themarketcompany.org.
2000 Convention Center Dr. (Miami Beach Botanical Garden), Miami Beach; 305-531-0038 or mbgarden.org.
Lincoln Road between Washington and Meridian avenues, Miami Beach; 305-531-0038 or themarketcompany.org.
7802 Rue Vendome (Normandy Isle Fountain), Miami Beach; 305-531-0038 or themarketcompany.org.
1900 Bay Rd. (Sunset Harbour Shops), Miami Beach; 305-661-6717 or paradisefarms.net.
11000 Red Rd., Pinecrest; 786-367-8274 or greenmarketco-op.org.
7900 SW 40th St. (Tropical Park), Miami; 305-663-0917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
6599 Biscayne Blvd. (Legion Park), Miami; urbanoasisproject.org.
Anticipated hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with expanded hours to be announced for a restaurant.
Community-Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and Produce Shares offer a convenient way to sample the freshest assortment of fruits, vegetables and more. Prices vary, but expect to pay about $30 a week for membership. Here are several local programs that provide their members with weekly or twice-monthly bounties, most of which are organically grown on Florida farms.
• TeenasPride CSA: teenaspridecsa.com
• Verde Community Farm & Market CSA: verdefarmandmarket.com/csa.html
• Bee Heaven CSA: beeheavenfarm.com
• Little River Cooperative CSA: littlerivercooperative.com
• Farm Fresh Miami: farmfreshmiami.com
• Endlessly Organic: endlesslyorganic.com
• Fresh and Simple: freshandsimpleorganics.com