Giving thanks in the garden

By Cochrane

Avocado papaya salad. Spiced garbanzos. Cauliflower Manchuria. Indian rice. Chayote. All of this and more was shared among students, faculty, alumni and one Cantankerous Chef, fans of sustainable living who turned out for the third annual Thanksgiving potluck luncheon hosted by FIU’s Agroecology Program and Garden Club. The Nov. 21 celebration, which drew a crowd of approximately 100, took place under the trees of the organic garden at Modesto A. Maidique Campus.

“We have so much to be thankful for,” said graduate student Stephany Alvarez-Ventura, agroecology program manager in the Department of Earth and Environment. “This program, the people, fresh water and this bountiful harvest we will soon enjoy.”

Golden beets. Royal burgundy, bush, yard-long and pole beans. Collard greens. Tomatoes. Thai basil. Carrots. Dill. Asian greens. It’s all there but not quite ready yet. Recent torrential rains killed much of the fall plantings, putting the garden’s growth behind schedule. In fact, only one dish at this year’s celebration included ingredients from FIU’s organic garden. Miles Medina, who will begin a master’s program in environmental studies in January, used the garden’s Chinese cabbage in his “spicy tofu noodles” dish.

Tolerance was the order of the day, and meat dishes shared space with vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Conversations ran the gamut from updates about family and classes to talk of “really sweet” rainwater irrigation systems.

Alumni Drake Kurlander ’11 and Ian Wogan ’11 stopped by. The friends have gone into business together, creating a company that specializes in the design and installation of edible and sustainable livingscapes. “This garden has been very influential in my life for the past three years,” said Wogan. “It’s given me a lot of inspiration in terms of the direction I’m taking in my life.”

Robert Barnum, aka The Cantankerous Chef, was making his first visit to the organic garden. When asked why he came to the event, the local farmer and chef said simply, “Because of FIU.”

Guests were treated to some brief entertainment after the meal – and the promise of a bountiful harvest in the garden in a few months’ time.

Volunteers are welcomed at the “People’s Garden” at FIU. To learn more, contact Thelma Velez at or stop by on Fridays, which are workdays in the garden.