Reinventing As a Farmer: The Organic Niche Farmer

The Organic Niche Farmer: Gabriele Marewski, Homestead, Florida.

By Jenny Rough

 In 1998, Marewski was a single mom raising her eight-year-old son while holding down a demanding county-government job. “I loved my work, but conversations with my son were basically, ‘Hurry, hurry, hurry! I’ll drop you off at school.’ ” In December of that year, as she was figuring out child-care arrangements to cover the Christmas holidays, she decided to call it quits. “I need to spend this time with my son,” she told her boss. Then, with money from a real estate sale, she bought five acres of gorgeous land next door and cast around for ways to make the property pay. 

As a child, she’d spent summers playing in the forest near her home and tending a small vegetable patch. Now she wanted her son to have similar experiences. That spring she planted lettuce and sold it through a Community Supported Agriculture program. Then she noticed that local restaurant chefs were using microgreens—very young arugula, cilantro and similar leaves that are harvested when they’re only a few inches tall. “They’re way too expensive for the retail market, because you use a lot of seed and everything’s done by hand,” Marewski explains. After some research, she planted an assortment of 10 greens, then made cold calls at Miami-area restaurants, samples in hand. Four chefs bought her produce, and Paradise Farms (paradisefarms.net) shifted into high gear.

But the workload was dizzying. “At first I did everything myself: growing, delivering, bookkeeping,” she says. Then she hired the first of what would become six full-time and four part-time employees. She eventually signed up 20 restaurants and added edible flowers and oyster mushrooms to her list. Now Marewski offers more than 100 types of plants throughout the year (microgreens typically sell for $3 to $4 an ounce), runs a volunteer program and hosts fund-raising dinners on the farm to benefit nature-based nonprofits. “We’ve given away over $30,000 in the last four years,” she says. “That’s our way of giving back.” 

She puts all her profits into the farm for future projects and lives simply: no air conditioning or TV. “I don’t even get a newspaper subscription,” she says. “If something is important enough, someone will let you know.” 

Originally published in the July/August 2010 issue of More under the title FIELDS OF DREAMS.

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