Last week I took a trip down to Homestead with Muriel and her daughter, Bimini Rose. We had a few errands to run for the farm and our CSA shares. At the Little River Cooperative we are growing a majority of what goes into our members CSA boxes, but we are only three acres and occasionally need to supplement with produce that may be ready to harvest on other local farms. On our list of things to accomplish for this trip were: hunting for strawberries, picking up banana plants, finding waxed boxes, and looking for inspiration in a few farming system setups.
For our readers who aren’t so familiar with the Homestead area, here is a bit more of a description. South of the greater urban Miami epicenter, but still a part of Miami Dade County, Homestead lies between two large national parks, Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park. It was named for the original settlers of the area who were setting up homesteads at the beginning of the extension of Florida East Coast Railway to Key West. The area had gone unnamed aside from the understanding that it was “homestead country.” With materials coming from the area and heading south, the name was shortened to “Homestead” by engineers mapping the region. Some form of agriculture usually accompanies homesteading, so as the population grew in both Homestead and Miami, so did the agricultural community.
This past summer with the Driving Food Home collective, I came to realize that there is no one type of farmer or homesteader. I grew up in Miami, but have been traveling for many years; being back longer than a couple months for the first time in 6 years has been an eye opening experience to rediscover places that had seemed so familiar, but were still complete mysteries. Homestead was one of these places for me. Not only did I not think people were still homesteading in Homestead, but I associated Homestead with big Ag, not small bio diverse systems.
A majority of the farmers I have met in my recent visits to Homestead have been retirees or individuals that have decided to move south of Miami and out of such an urban setting. Don, of Going Bananas Nursery, is a Miami transplant; a pilot turned banana farmer. He showed us around a portion of his 5 acre banana grove and two of his green house structures, that he and his wife manage. They are firm believers in natural practices in their approach to life and growing bananas.
Then there are places like LNB Groves, which is now being run by second-generation young farmers with a new outlook on their families land and farming practices. This certified organic family farm is one of the more beautiful fruit farms I have ever seen. While there is plenty of fruit to go around, their peak season is not until the summer months so it was exciting to see so many crops thriving through the winter. We discussed fruit to be shared with our CSA members as we harvested and ate jaboticaba, leaving with full bellies and lovely gifts!
While Miami is a part of the continental US, being surrounded by farmland in the humid subtropics was a charming reminder of how different this place is from anywhere else in the country (except maybe parts of southern California and Hawaii). In fact, this area is almost the exact opposite in terms of seasons. We are in our peak growing season as the rest of the country freezes and we'll be transitioning into our off season as the rest of the states are contemplating tilling in cover crop to prepare for their growing season.
As with other agricultural communities in the US, there is a surge of interest in farming, especially from young people who want to be a part of changing the way people think about and relate to food and consumption. It is exciting to see and even more rewarding to be a part of.