Well, no one can justifiably call this church “St. Simon’s in the Weeds” anymore. Thank Moses Kashem for that.
For years, the small St. Simon’s Episcopal Church, at 10959 SW 34th St. in Miami, was known for its overgrown land. Then the church’s elders agreed, at Kashem’s suggestion, to turn over one-eighth of the 4-acre site to his Urban Vegetable Project.
An urban farm was born. But why at this particular house of worship?
“The idea to farm at my church came after I set my mind to farming organically and obtaining certification. I knew I had to commit to a piece of land for years, and I was already committed to the community at my church. So I went for it. St. Simon’s is an ideal location for an urban farm,” says Kashem (pronounced KASH-em).
A cornucopia of produce
The half-acre garden is highly productive. Crops include bok choi, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, beets, radishes, turnips, sweet potatoes, squash, zucchini, green beans, basil, dill, onions, chives, kohlrabi, mustard greens, kale, microgreens, sunflower sprouts and over 20 varieties of lettuce.
Some of the produce is bought by restaurants, including Pinch Kitchen and Ricky Thai Bistro, both in Miami. St. Simon’s Episcopal Church receives 15 percent of the profits from the sales to restaurants and from the Urban Vegetable Project’s CSA (community supported agriculture) subscriptions.
Kashem foresees more growth ahead: “We are in the process of acquiring a high tunnel (i.e., a greenhouse).”
The 27-year-old was born and raised in Miami. His parents — mother from Bologna, Italy; father from northeastern Bangladesh — immigrated to the U.S. They lived in Cutler Bay, where Kashem helped his father grow vegetables and fruits on the plot behind their home. Kashem’s mother, a dietitian, prepared meals from the produce.
Farming provides dual benefits
In addition to the satisfaction he receives from helping to feed people, Kashem says that farming provides another benefit. “It gives me a sense of peace that I have never had at any other time in my life.”
Though the farm at St. Simon’s is not yet certified organic, Kashem explains, “We are going through the organic certification process. We also adhere to organic practices and do not use non-organic amendments” (fertilizers and other products that are either man-made or mined).
He earned his bachelor-of-science degree in biological sciences from Florida International University in 2014. He then worked, for a time, as a horticultural specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Davie.
While at FIU, he met, and later married, Erin. She is now working on her doctoral degree in clinical child psychology.
And what are Kashem’s long-term goals for what he calls “St. Simon’s Farm”? “I’m committed to farming in Miami and to feeding our community. I don’t want St. Simon’s Farm to be known as a ’boutique’ farm, but rather a farm that feeds people with quality produce and doesn’t charge an arm and a leg.
“I dream of supplying schools with fresh produce to feed Miami’s diverse youth. Our youth deserve quality produce, at a reasonable price, and we are sure to deliver!”
For more information about the Urban Vegetable Project, including its CSA subscription, visit urbanvegetableproject.com.