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TASTE THE DIFFERENCE

How we farm – and deal with waste – affects environmental health, economic profitability, and social equity. Some local services are proving we can better feed a localized, circular farm-to-table economy.





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By Greg Clark, Good Miami Project

Imagine Miami, where everyone participates in composting and recycling. Items are neatly sorted into separate bins for aluminum, glass, paper, and plastic. The streets are bustling with electric buses, while cars are noticeably fewer. Locals have access to fresh seasonal foods sourced locally and sustainably farmed. This is how Vanessa Aflalo describes her dreams for her current hometown. 


“Living and studying in other parts of the country and abroad, gaining a sense of what they are doing right, and coming back to Miami afterward led me to perpetually ask questions as to why we are not doing things as effectively as them,” says Vanessa.


After spending several years in France and England, she settled back in Miami. Unpacking suitcases overweight with inspiration and knowledge of zero-waste practices and circular economies, Vanessa decided to create something different for Miami. In 2021, she founded Green Tomato, an online farmer's market delivery platform that sources fresh produce from South Florida farms and delivers it to your door the same day it’s harvested.


The harvest list is updated weekly with a rotating assortment of seasonal fruits, vegetables, and fresh herbs – from acorn squash to sweet potatoes to broccolini. For the full experience, you can add locally made granola, raw wildflower honey, ceremonial matcha tea, pasture-raised organic eggs, beef, hummus, and much more.


“Local small farmers have to deal with a lot of challenges – from immigration laws and potential labor shortages to high-heat weather that threatens the harvest, especially during the hot summer season. What we offer them is to be under this green delivery platform that benefits them in many ways – through a reliable delivery system, marketing exposure, and building partnerships with restaurants and cafes,” Vanessa says.


“I had a call from one of the farms, and they told me that if it weren't for our business, they would have to shut down because last summer was very hard for them. So really connecting those farms to the communities here in Miami-Dade and Broward is part of what we focus on.”


Vanessa Aflalo, Green Tomato

While there’s still a lot of farmland in the US, the number of small farm owners has dwindled drastically. Today, less than 1% of the US population lives on a farm, and the number of farms is decreasing. The most endangered kind is the small family farm, defined by the US Department of Agriculture as a place that produces and sells at least $1,000 of agricultural products per year and has a gross income of $350,000 or less.


In the US, small farms accounted for less than one-fourth of food production in 2020, down from nearly half in the 1990s. And the agricultural landscape continues to change, fueled by technology and increased industrialization. 


The recent county-commissioned report by the University of Florida warns: “Miami-Dade’s agricultural industry, which a century ago fed the nation in winter with vegetables and fruit, is in danger of hitting a critical point where it doesn’t have enough farmland to remain viable.” 


“Most of the farms here are monocropping farms that grow a single crop year after year on the same land,” Vanessa explains. “Some farms are starting to do vertical or hydroponic farming that produces year-round high-nutrient harvests, regardless of environmental challenges. It also requires less water, fertilizer, and land usage compared to conventional agricultural practices.”


Vanessa’s vision isn’t linear; it’s circular: Green Tomato is a framework for a low-emission, zero-waste agricultural economy that creates demand for innovative, sustainable farmers and solutions for consumers. Vanessa explains that quality, local produce from earth to doorstep, delivered responsibly in reusable tote bags instead of cardboard boxes or plastic, encourages customers to practice zero-waste measures. 


“When you have a guava that was harvested that same morning, you can really taste the difference, and you're not creating additional waste,” Vanessa adds. “By using a reusable bag, we're helping the environment and lowering our carbon footprint. We ask our customers to return their insulated tote bags to our driver so we can up-cycle them properly. Customers who don't return their tote bags upon canceling are charged a penalty fee per bag.”


Completing the cycle of consumption means dealing with food waste responsibly, too. Rather than throwing away leftover food scraps, they can be collected and returned to a farm that converts them into fertilizer and uses them to nourish more crops.


Paola Barranco of Compost For Life | Photo by Greg Clark, Good Miami Project


Reducing food waste is the easiest starting point to reduce its carbon footprint. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 58% of methane emissions result from food waste in landfills at Municipal Solid Waste facilities.


Ideally, we would have a municipal service that collects Miami’s solid food waste to compost, just like trash pickup. Currently, the County is running out of landfills and space for all its garbage – especially after a fire gutted a waste incinerator plant in Doral that processed about half the trash the county collects.


Officials also project that the North Dade Landfill would be exhausted by 2026 and reach its closure, “causing residents and commercial haulers to drive 40 miles” to the South Dade Landfill. The South Dade Landfill, a 300-acre site near Homestead, was forecast to reach capacity by 2030.


County leadership needs time to address this severe waste problem, but Miami’s 2.7 million residents don’t have to wait. They can take matters into their own hands by collecting their food waste for composting. 


Soilmate composting provides services for residential and commercial customers in Miami, with bin pickups weekly or bi-weekly. For those in north Miami-Dade and Broward, Reünable produces composting for communities, events, and businesses. They also offer waste audits and consulting services for food service industry businesses. 


If you are near the Pinecrest area, visit the Pinecrest Farmers Market on any Sunday to pick up a free composting bin. After filling the bin, drop it off at one of the designated locations in the parking area between Pinecrest Gardens and the Community Center near the Whilden Carrier Cottage. This free and public composting spot partners with the Fertile Earth Worm Farm, a company focused on commercial food waste pickup for restaurants, supermarkets, and sports arenas. Founded by Dr. Lanette Sobel in 2008, the team takes discarded organics to her farm or others in Homestead to be composted and turned into soil.


Francisco Torres of Compost For Life | Photo by Greg Clark, Good Miami Project


Compost for Life has already donated over 23,000 lbs of ‘black gold’ to local farmers and community gardeners like the Green Haven Project, Blue Horizon Farm, Health in the Hood, and Aloha Redland. The organization also partners with community leaders to host community dropoff hubs, or you can host your own. The submissions are running through their website.


When Francisco Torres, founder of Compost for Life, began his pioneering journey to bring good, reliable, affordable composting options to Miami, commercial and residential composting were not mainstream. Today, Compost for Life serves over 40 businesses, including schools and hospitals, and offers residential pick-up service. 


"You often hear people in Miami don't care about recycling; they don’t care about composting,” Francisco says. “But we care, and we are here -- because we want to make a difference and bring about change."






 

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