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The Little Garden That Could

In Miami’s Little Haiti, a community garden has put down roots within the city’s dining scene.

The first time I visit the Little Haiti Community Garden, Prevner Julien is pulling weeds from under a tall palm. It’s humid and the air is thick with the smell of flowering trees. He pauses, wipes his brow and greets me with a wide grin. Julien doesn’t speak much English but chats with locals in his native creole. As garden manager, he’s responsible for the okra, collards, melons, eggplant, spinach, basil and other produce that have put this garden front and centre on Miami’s dining scene.

Later that day, I tuck into the kale salad at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, which Bon Appétit named as one of the country’s 50 Best New Restaurants in 2012. Julien’s tender kale is a perfect complement to the salad’s crisp green apples, sharp aged cheddar and cider vinegar. Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink orders the garden’s freshly picked arugula by the bucket, while Copperbox Atelier chef Gabriela Machado uses its edible flowers in her impeccably plated seasonal dishes. “It’s a great relationship,” says Machado. “I can go and pick whatever I want; the produce is fresh and it lasts.”

Prevner Julien Miami's Little Haiti Community GardenPrevner Julien tends to his unconventional garden.

Friends Tamara Hendershot and Gary Feinberg purchased the former empty lot in 2009 as a way to get more involved with the historically disadvantaged community. They hired Julien in 2011. “Julien can grow anything he wants, the way he wants,” says Hendershot. “But he hates to plant in rows.”

Walking through the small plot, which measures roughly one-third of an acre, I notice how wild it really is. Tall palms border scattered beds of flourishing herbs and greens, which are separated by small dirt paths. At one end of the garden, an enormous banyan tree provides shade. Julien has no formal training; he was a subsistence farmer in his native Haiti.

Miami's Yardbird RestaurantYardbird restaurant uses fresh produce from the community garden for several dishes on its Southern-inspired menu.

The next day, I meet chef Steven Martin for lunch at his hip Design District joint, Harry’s Pizzeria. He points to crunchy plantain fritters sprinkled with Mexican oregano, tangy green papaya salad and Brussels sprouts mixed with collard greens, pine nuts, shaved garlic and sinfully rich Parmesan dressing. “They all come from the garden,” he explains. Martin was introduced to the urban renewal project when Feinberg showed up on his doorstep with a basket of fresh produce. “I like their philosophy. You take care of your neighbours, and they take care of you,” he adds.

On Saturday mornings, area kids arrive to learn about farming, from seed to harvest. The garden also has a “you-pick” policy, which offers members of the community affordable produce in their own backyard. “A garden does something special,” says Feinberg. “People can come, talk, learn and eat. What could be better?”

“This garden has had a tremendous impact,” local artist Edouard Duval later tells me. “Prevner grows things, like leafy greens and sugar cane, that are sometimes not even available at neighbourhood supermarkets. I’m hoping others will take his cue.” Many of Miami’s top chefs, including Machado, agree. “It helps to have someone in Little Haiti who cares and who wants to plant the seeds.”



Getting There

Air Canada offers the most non-stop flights from Canada to Florida, to the most destinations in Florida including Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Sarasota and Tampa.

Comments… or add another

Mirvil Bruno

Monday, January 6th 2014 16:15
Refreshing...I have read so many cool articles from En route and I even criticized some...However this time I found it refreshing to read about not only the food experience in top-notch restaurants in Miami but also to learn true meaning of integration and social partnership...really inspiring and I invite anyone to visit this magical garden that not only provides fresh product but provide a basket of hope to an entire community. Next time in Miami, before savouring your salad at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, it will definitely worth a few minutes to see where the fresh kale and arugula are from.
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