Last week, Miami's Roots in the City Farmers Market offered a special on fresh local produce includng kale, collards, tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant and green beans. They gave it away. For free.
This happened after the City of Miami slapped Roots, the only farmers market in Miami's underserved Overtown community, with a zoning citation. It carries a $250 daily fine for "illegal sale of fruits and merchandise from open stands." This came as news to the market, which has been operating for over a year. Roots founder Dr. Marvin Dunn Dunn called the city's code enforcement office. He called the city manager. He got no response. So when market day came on Wednesday, he decided they'd rather close and give the food away than watch it rot in the field or be held in violation.
Here's the problem -- the city has no existing licenses for farmers markets. And it just sort of figured this out. First Dunn was told the closest thing on the books is a special events license, which costs $156. You can only apply for two a year. For a market operating every Wednesday, twice a year won't cut it. Roots faces another challenge -- a big one. At the end of the month, the market stands to lose its annual funding through the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. No money, no Roots.
Yes, we're all facing a time of budgetary constraints, but shutting down Roots in the City literally takes food out of people's mouths. "We give away a third of what we grow," explains Dunn, longtime Florida International University professor and civil rights leader. The market donates much of its harvest to community agencies, shelters and schools. Roots is also part of the SNAP program, supplying double value on food stamps. A dollar's worth of food stamps gets you two bucks' worth of veggies -- veggies that couldn't be fresher. Ask the people who rely on it, like the neighborhood woman who cradled a papaya like a baby, another who beamed as she gathered up kale and peppers.
But Roots is growing more than food. Once called the Harlem of the South, Overtown fell on hard times and in recent years, saw more crack vials and syringes than collards and callalloo. Roots trains and employs people right from the neighborhood who've transformed what were once abandoned lots into thriving green space. Armed with hope, vision and sweat equity, "We just started planting," says Dunn. "I figured what were they going to say, bring the needles back?"
What Roots grows is not just produce but community, a network of farmers, chefs, schools, gardens, activists, civic organizations and volunteers. This is a Miami I've been proud to be a part of, and one the city government should be proud of, too.
At a rally in support of Roots, a city representative tried to tell Dunn it's all been a silly misunderstanding. The market only needs an annual $250 certificate of use plus a $73 warrant to operate a business. "No one told me that before the [media] cameras came," muses Dunn.
He's scrambling to secure the permit. Otherwise, the market will have to remain closed. Even with the market in compliance, the city's Community Redevelopment Agency says they're not convinced what Roots provides can justify further funding. Roots comes before the city for a hearing on April 26.
I'm hoping this, too, is just a terrible misunderstanding. At a time when our small local farmers are struggling more than ever and people need jobs, I'd like to believe our city values a farmers market that serves the community, the local economy and provides fresh food to those who need it most.
Spring Frittata With Farmers Market Greens and Goat Cheese
You can get everything in this recipe, except for the butter, lemon, salt and pepper, at Roots in the City -- and many other farmers markets.
2 tablespoons butter
3 scallions, chopped
1 bunch spinach or kale leaves (about 4 cups, loosely packed), chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves (about 2 sprigs)
1/3 cup soft goat cheese
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Set oven to broil.
Melt butter in an oven-proof 8-inch omelet pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté scallions until soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in greens by the handful and cook until just wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in lemon zest and mint.
Whisk eggs until light and lemon-colored. Crumble in goat cheese and beat for a minute or so. Pour over greens and cook 4 to 5 minutes, tilting pan occasionally, until eggs are just set.
Place pan on top rack under broiler and cook 4 to 5 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and frittata is lightly brown. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Makes 2 or 3 servings.
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