By Yvette Goodiel, Sustainability and Commercial Horticulture, Martin County

The SARE Pre-tour adventurers spent two days traveling throughout South Florida, exploring hydroponic protected agriculture, a cattle ranch and water farm, a food pantry’s unique production and packinghouse, ethnic vegetable production on the edge of suburban development, and tropical fruit groves with abundant tasting opportunities!

For our first stop, Colab Farm Manager Hannah Brock led us on a tour of hydroponic vegetable and flower production and then sent us off with mangoes, avocados, and fresh vegetables.

We sampled these as we wandered through the House of Hope Food Pantry garden and packinghouse, led by Farm Manager Mike Meier.

During our stop at Bull Hammock Ranch, we met with rancher Wes Carlton, his sister Mary Ann and her daughter Paige, as well as FDACS Office of Agricultural and Water Policy’s Vanessa Stephen. We learned about the Best Management Practices program, water farming, and the struggles Florida ranchers face. Paige shared her FFA speech on agricultural land stewardship and her ag awareness online efforts – perhaps we met a future Extension Agent!

water farm

Rancher Wes Carlton showed us his ranch and water farm. Here we are standing on the levee that runs along the water farm perimeter.

During lunch at the historic Seminole Inn, owner Jonnie Flewelling shared her delicious fried chicken and stories of her family’s history, much of which is connected to the history of the inn itself.

As we travelled by bus with our superb driver, Peggy, we saw so many changes in the landscape. Co-Chair Hannah Wooten expertly narrated much of the tour, sharing about the geologic history of Florida, how drainage efforts affected south Florida’s hydrology and ecology, and the changes she has seen thus far in her lifetime as a native Floridian.

Hannah Wooten

Co-Chair Hannah Wooten shares educational information on the sites we visited and areas we passed through along our way.

We visited the UF/IFAS Everglades Research and Education Center (EREC), where Agent Matt VanWeelden introduced us to some of the researchers he collaborates with. Dr.’s Bhadha and Beuzelin shared updates from their SARE-funded research and how they are working to conserve soil and address pest problems growers in the region are facing.

When we arrived at the Miami-Dade Extension Office, we were greeted by Extension Agents Jeff Wasielewski and Qingren Wang, who provided a fabulous Cuban lunch, complemented by fresh mangoes. Jeff and Qingren also shared their knowledge of agriculture in the Redlands of South Florida and research at the nearby UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center.

Next stop was the Fruit and Spice Park, where Ms. Iva showed us the many tropical fruit trees in their collection, with fruit tastings along the way.

One of the highlights of the tour was our stop at Mr. and Mrs. Brissett’s farm, where Mr. Brissett treated us to fresh coconut water and sugarcane he harvested and prepared for us. Our hydration and spirits revived, we carried on with fond memories of his generosity and kindness.

group photo

Ms. Scott and Ms. Elliott of the North-South Institute (leftmost in group photo), along with Mr. Brissett (rightmost in photo), led the group on a tour of Mr. and Mrs. Brissett’s farm.

Fruit Stand

At our last stop of the tour, participants were able to purchase tropical fruit smoothies and fresh fruits at the Robert is Here Fruit Stand.

We wish to thank the tour participants, who maintained their curiosity and humor as they trekked through farms and groves, assembled atop levees, ran through a popup storm at EREC, made a surprise stop at a Lowes’ Garden Center, and gamely sampled an assortment of foreign fruits. Seeds were saved, memories were made, and all returned safely to the Convention Center to start the NACAA 2022 Conference.

Thank you to everyone who made this tour possible, including Co-Chair Hannah Wooten, NACAA’s Laura Miller, FL SARE Coordinators Dr. Mickie Swisher and Dr. Cassel Gardener, Dr. Andrine Stanhope, Matt VanWeelden, Jeff Wasielewski, Qingren Wang, Jess Ryals, Carol Roberts, Kaylene Sattano, and all of our tour hosts and participants.