Newly opened Verde Farm Market in Homestead/ courtesy photo.

Newly opened Verde Farm Market in Homestead/ courtesy photo.

by Janis Fontaine

An unusual remedy to our nation’s “food desert” problem – getting fresh fruits and vegetables to distressed neighborhoods – is being tested in a pilot program in Homestead. The 50 acres that house a working farm, farmers market, and new kitchen used to be part of Homestead Air Force Base.

Residents of adjacent Verde Gardens help work the farm. /courtesy photo

Residents of adjacent Verde Gardens help work the farm. /courtesy photo

Verde Community Farm & Market with its new cafe, called Verde Kitchen, and juice bar opened in June. Much of the food served in the cafe is grown on the 22-acre farm and harvested by employees who are residents of Verde Gardens, the adjacent community.

Verde Gardens is a 145-unit residence for formerly homeless families. It was developed in 2011 by Carrfour Supportive Housing, a nonprofit developer, in partnership with the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust.

The innovative project, which provides housing for homeless families who have a disabled family member, also offers support services and opportunities for its residents so they can become self-sufficient.

Open-air farmers market

The project’s state-of-the-art market is a 5,000-square-foot open-air structure with 25-foot ceilings and huge doors overhead rolling doors.

“They originally thought farmers would drive their trucks in there and sell produce – like farmers have time for that,” quips Bill Squire, Verde Market’s operations manager.

Instead, the market will buy produce from local farms and sell it, using only residents of the Verde Gardens community to work at the market.

Verde participates in the Fresh Access Bucks program, which doubles electronic benefit transfer (EBT) clients’ buying power for fresh foods. For $10 of EBT spent, buyers will get $20 worth of food.

Squire says the residents will be learning skills that can translate into real-world employment: “It’s micro-entrepreneurship.”

Moving residents up and out with job skills

Verde workers pack vegetables, boosting job skills. /Courtesy photo.

Verde workers pack vegetables, boosting job skills. /Courtesy photo.

Through on-the-job training, residents get a hand-up on being self-sufficient. Once family members can sustain themselves, they move out, leaving a home open for another homeless family.

“They say the waiting list has thousands of names on it,” he says.

The café opening was delayed because reopening as a full restaurant venue required detailed plans and extra permits, which took longer than expected.

“We wanted to do it right the first time,” explains Squire, a former South Beach businessman.

A chef, Adri Garcia, has developed menus for the Kitchen. For now, it is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, serving a limited menu.

Squire says he’s excited to begin reaping the benefits that means putting more people to work. Residents hired for the eatery will learn to prep, cook, and bake under the watchful eye of the chef trained by the award-winning Thomas Keller, of French Laundry fame.

The modern Verde Kitchen will focus on healthy dishes. The menu features breakfast and lunch options, pastries baked on-site, an organic juice bar, and fresh fruit shakes. Tropical fruit pops also are available.

“We won’t be all organic or all vegan, but we’ll certainly have some dishes that are. Seating is at long communal tables,” Squire says of the café. Wifi is available.

No outside vendors allowed

The kitchen will source as much produce from the USDA-certified organic farm as possible. The farm already supplies produce for more than two dozen local farm-to-table restaurants. The market sells produce bought from local farmers and grove owners. It also has an edible plant and flower nursery, and will sell artisan products purchased from locals who source local ingredients. But no outside vendors are allowed.

Verde Farm supplies most of the vegetable sold at its market, though some are bought from area farmers. /Courtesy photo.

Verde Farm supplies most of the vegetables sold at its market, though some are bought from area farmers. /Courtesy photo.

To generate more income, Verde Kitchen will rent out its state-of-the-art commercial kitchen to local food service and catering businesses as an organic food incubator. Long-range plans call for renting out the market site for weddings and parties – which Verde Cafe will also cater.

Verde Gardens and Verde Community Farm & Market are the first community of its kind undertaken by the Urban Oasis Project, and managers continue to try out ideas, culling successful ones.

They listen to the community, and if a suggestion might create jobs and attract buyers, they’ll give it a shot, Squire said. Already planned is an organic strawberry U-pick.

Cyclists like to use the area to ride their bikes around the farm, so bike trails with tire pumps are being built.

If you go:

Verde Community Farm & Market

  • 12690 SW 280th St., Homestead, Fla. 33033
  • 305-257-2005;
  • Summer hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-3pm. For information about the daily harvest, visit the Verde Farm Facebook page:

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Read more about community farms and markets in South Florida in the Summer 2015 issue of Florida Food & Farm.