—by Alex Norelli
It’s hard to believe that just over ten years ago Paradise was an abandoned avocado grove overgrown with vines. But today, Paradise—the land that has become Paradise Farms that is—is a thriving 5 acres laid out according to sacred geometry, where a profusion of greens, edible flowers and oyster mushrooms are the fruit of the labor.
“Organic is about being open to nature,” says Gabrielle Marewski, who founded the farm in 1999. And what better way to show openness to nature than eating it, right? Well at Paradise Farms, everything is edible, everything. The flowers growing throughout can easily be plucked and eaten raw for a savory experience. Haven’t you always wondered what color tastes like? We have a bit narrow idea of yellow being lemony, blue tasting like blueberries, orange tasting like, well, oranges. But these associations have more to do with companies passing off the myriad of artificial products that have infiltrated out lives as though they were real. Orange soda for example, has no actual juice in it, but a conglomeration of artifices to make us think we are drinking carbonated orange juice.
But at Paradise Farms, things tend to taste different than they look, not by any deception, but merely because you may not be familiar with the broadness of edibleness and fresh flavor. But when you try something like nasturtiums, those exotic looking annuals with flying saucer leaves and flowers like tangerine trumpets, a zesty peppery balanced floral treat is what you get. And when you try borage, don’t let its name confuse you into thinking you are in for something bland. These little blue starflowers taste as fresh as chilled cucumbers.
And an amazing thing I learned was that trying the flowers of things you know you don’t like, for instance cilantro (by far is the most polarizing herb around) ultimately pays off. You either love it or hate, but it’s impossible to be indifferent to its taste, which detractors liken to soap. I don’t know what it’s like to like this herb, but when Gabrielle asked if I liked it, I had in mind she was going to offer me its flower. So I said, Sure, knowing that if there was any redeeming quality to this plant for me, it may just be the flower. She then plucked a few of the tiny white petals from a very upright and verdurous cilantro. The miniscule blooms on hair-like stems were as delicate as an alpine flower’s. Biting into it and chewing, I braced for a pungency that never arrived, instead it was only casually there, by all means palatable, and then there was a surprise. Surging from the arch of a flavor’s life, a lemony citrus taste spread across my tongue, stupefying me and winning me over simultaneously.
Towards the end of the tour I asked Gabrielle if five acres ever seems not enough, (of something so living, peaceful, and nurturing…wouldn’t more be better?)…and she batted her eyes and said never. “It’s a question of you running your business or your business running you. It’s not about bigger,” she said. “But better with what we have,” insisting there is a certain point where merely expanding the workable area of the farm means more work at the expense of quality.
I certainly and sincerely could side with her sentiment on a personal level. My first few years of gardening/micro-farming where fast-paced and filled with new plants, buying plants, buying seeds, planting, potting, propagating, expanding. But during this time I built up a garden that I myself struggled to maintain, a collection of plants, all dear to me, that each required a certain amount of attention…and then there are the weeds! At a certain point it was no longer a hobby, but a job I never seemed to have enough time to complete. Her comment underscored a lesson I hoped to bring to my own garden this year, that of doing more with what you have, focusing on quality.
While the farm itself is open by appointment only, there is a series of dinners hosted at the farm throughout the year showcasing the vegetarian lifestyle that Gabrielle lives and believes in passionately. The five course dinners, held in the open-air cabana, are prepared by some of Miami’s top chefs, and each dinner is themed. There are also a series of holiday brunches, the next being St. Partrick’s Day.
You can find out more at Paradisefarms.net
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