After a summer full of exploration, growth, and learning, it was time again to begin rooting myself in a very familiar place. Miami is home for me, being the place I grew up and where my family resides. Having farmed here for only short periods in the past, I was excited to jump into a yearlong apprenticeship with the Little River Cooperative.
Behind the Little River name are two powerhouse women, Muriel Olivares and Tiffany Noe. Both key elements in the management of the farm, garden, and nursery, they have come to love plants and work as a team in a multitude of ways.
Muriel Olivares has a background in fine arts, flower production, and arrangements. She found her way to organic, small scale, agriculture after recognizing the physical volumes of waste that can come with being a florist in New York City. Moving back down to Miami, she began the Little River Market Garden, a small CSA based off of the land she was living on. Tiffany Noe came into the picture when Muriel was searching for apprentices. Three years ago, after graduating from the University of Florida in photography and spending 8 years in Germany, Tiffany began Woofing and farming on the United State’s west coast. Her interests in plant life only continued to strengthen, a clear example of this is her recently published book Forager; it only seemed natural that these two would find each other. After Tiffany’s apprenticeship with Muriel, and their continued work after the contracted time, these two women decided to collaborate and the cooperative was born.
The collective now consists of a nursery, garden, and farm property, and only seems to be expanding. In addition to their weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) box, which runs for 20 weeks during Florida’s cool season, they are a weekly staple at markets around town and work with local restaurants. However, because they are not producing enough to fill 60+ CSA boxes alone, they have teamed up with local farms growing different crops, making for a diverse CSA share.
In addition to being farmers and plant stewards, both Muriel and Tiffany are businesswomen. They understand the financial strains that can come with urban agriculture and are always looking for ways of diversifying their production, such as holding events, saving seed, selling locally produced gardening goods, and more. Wanting to support themselves and their community, they are a motivating force pushing the food movement forward in South Florida.
Beginning my apprenticeship mid August, I could not have imagined the literal heat I was in for; manual labor in 103 degrees is no easy task and every farmer should be recognized and respected for the physical strain of tending land. To say the least, driving in from North Carolina and landing in Miami was an adjustment. As the summer was closing, we began prepping the land for South Florida’s growing season. There was a ton of weeding, mulching, composting, and overall prep that needed to happen and we got right to work. However long and hot the days felt, it was always rewarding to step back and breathe at the end of a long day and look out on to all that had been accomplished.
Simultaneously, Muriel, Tiffany, and myself were starting seed in the nursery. These seedlings would not only be going to the farm and garden properties, but they would also be sold at seedling sales around town and at our very own nursery sales (these seedling sales will continue through the winter), an exciting new addition to the cooperative’s model.
As stated on their webpage, we are producing 40 varieties of annual vegetables and herbs as well as many year round tropical crops like sugar cane, bananas, key limes and edible flowers, an impressive amount for two full time farmers and myself.
While we have not yet been able to harvest much, the humid subtropics allows for a diverse year round growing season. Meaning that currently things like avocados, mulberry’s, sugarcane, purslane, peppers, ackee, seagrapes, passion fruit, and tons of forgeable goodies are ready to be harvested and consumed, but that will shift as the season progresses.
Although my apprenticeship has only just begun, I have already touched on a few key themes such as how key timing is with EVERYTHING from scheduling, seedlings, weather, to pests, and how to really pay attention, to leaves, roots, fruits, flowers, soil, sun, weather, etc.
I am exceedingly grateful to have the opportunity to work with these women and to reconnect with a community and place I call home.