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Exotic Fruit Farms are Doing Well in South Dade

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Posted: Friday, May 11, 2018 1:00 am

   I recently spoke with Peter Leifermann of Brooks Tropicals to discuss the expansion of the exotic fruit market throughout the South Dade agriculture community.

   This company has a long, local history dating back to the 1920s when Charlie Brooks started selling Cuban avocados that were brought over by ferry. Soon he began growing avocados and grapefruit in the Redlands. His son, Dick joined with him after finishing college. Together, they would expand sales to the northeast with a fleet of delivery trucks. Grandson, Neal (Pal) would join the team and in the 1960’s as they began developing into the major packing house they are today.

   Not only do they raise a large variety of tropical fruits but they grow, buy and pack fruit from other countries.

   “Yes, there is a rediscovery of Carambola (Starfruit). We are producing some locally and have additional acreage in Pine Island,” Leifermann said. “Hurricane Irma knocked out our 2017 production but we are looking for a good year in 2018.”

   Carambola is low in calories, high in vitamin C, plus a good source of fiber and antioxidants. It is crisp and juicy. When cut crosswise it resembles a star. If the fruit has one drawback it’s that it bruises easily. But that is a positive for local growers in that it limits importation from overseas and Mexico. Add to the fact that Starfruit coming from Mexico must be radiated for insect control and you have another favorable factor for local growers.

   We also spoke with Louie Carricarte of Unity Farms. Again, the interview started about Carambola. He pointed out, “Yes we do grow some starfruit but there are many other non-native fruits that successfully grow here.” As a supporter of “Fresh from Florida,” I asked about imports. Louie replied, “We have built this business with Florida as our main focus. We only do imports if an item is not available or out of season. Unfortunately, Mexico, with the shortcoming of enforcing its guidelines under NAFTA, is destroying much of the produce farming industry in South Florida. As for local fruit production, there is enough clientele willing to pay a little more for American quality. You just can’t compare a Florida mango to one grown in Mexico.

   We are big in mangoes and longans plus this year we expect the lychee crop to be outstanding.”

   The list of fruits handled by Unity is extensive. “With Amazon working a reduced rate through the Post Office, we will start shipping smaller quantities of fresh fruit directly to the consumer with overnight service.”

   We also discussed lime production, which was large in the Homestead until the canker scare led to a government massacre of lime trees. This turned the market over to Mexico whose limes have a lower juice content.

   “Lime groves are making a small comeback. There are about 60 acres now in production in the area.”

   Again it was noted that, “There is still a demand for the higher quality of South Dade limes. When you squeeze a local lime you get a quantity of juice unmatched by anything grown in Mexico.”

    As a local farmer, I can note that not all South Dade Agriculture has been destroyed by NAFTA, but thousands of acres of viable farm land is being threatened.

    It would be virtually impossible to save that amount of land for other types of farming with the smaller 10, 20 or 40 acre groves, fish farms and other forms of agriculture. Only a change in NAFTA will save our farming acreage for its present use, feeding the American people.

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