Just a few years ago, row crop farming was abundant in South Dade. Driving through Florida City and up into the Redland, you would pass acres and acres of beans, tomato and zucchini. That is quickly becoming a thing of the past. South Dade farmers have been fighting a losing battle for years, as Mexico is allowed to flood the US market with fruits and vegetables at prices that can not be matched by American farmers. Mexico has become the primary source of the vegetable and fruits Americans depend on, while our farmers quickly lose their farms, family businesses and a way of life.

An excerpt from a News Leader article just a few years back in 2014 highlighted the Finocchairo and Talarico families as they were awarded “Farm Family of the Year” from the Dade County Farm Bureau. It details the importance of farming to their families: “The Guy Talarico and Russ Finochiarro families farmed in Chester, New York during the summers and Florida during the winters starting in 1951.  In 1966, they moved to South Dade and F& T Farms began.  Initially, Russ and Guy only grew yellow squash. Now they grow zucchini, cranberry beans, pole beans, string beans, grape tomatoes, bell peppers and jalapenos.  The farm is now run primarily by their sons Leo Talarico and Sal Finocchario. Leo and Sal grew up in Homestead. Since their fathers were business partners the boys grew up as best friends but considered themselves family.

“We would go to the farm with our dads as early as I can remember. We had to help out. We would help pick zucchini with our mothers and stack a nd load beans,” said Sal. In 1987, before they graduated high school, Leo and Sal were named full partners at F&T Farms. In 1989, Sal and Leo formed S&L Beans which was created to lessen the liability for Guy and Russ with F&T Farms when they decided to step back from daily perations. Currently (2014) F&T Farms is growing 2,000 acres of several vegetables including yellow squash, green beans, grape tomatoes and zucchini.”

That isn’t the case anymore, just six years later.

Said Sal Finocchario this week, “The last year we farmed we left half of our crop in the field due to the overabundance (flooding the market) of tomato crops from Mexico into the US. And last year we didn’t farm row crops at all for that same reason, because we couldn’t make enough money to keep it going. We can not compete with the Mexican Free Trade Agreement.”

In last week’s article we covered the transition of these two farmers - long time partners and Homestead row crop growers who have transitioned their production to Industrial Hemp (Cannabis Sativa with less than .3% THC by dry weight) production. S&L Farms has transitioned into a new grow, as South Tip Hemp. In this week’s article we cover more about the growing process and South Tip Hemp’s plans for the future.

The growing process begins as seeds certified by the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies or approved Universities are planted in plastic trays. As the plants grow they are transplanted to individual pots. A sophisticated drip and spray irrigation system supplies the plants with the right amount of water and nutrients as they mature in South Tip Hemp’s 2 almost 10,000 sq foot greenhouses.

Depending on the specific variety and conditions the plants will be ready to be transplanted outside in approximately 4 to 6 weeks.

The plants are moved to the fenced-in growing area and planted using the same proven techniques as the tomatoes formerly grown by S and L Beans. Carefully tended the plants will grow to 4 to 5 feet and be tested regularly to determine the optimum harvest time. Harvesting the hemp will be done both by hand and mechanically. This hybrid process will hand pick flowers and other high-end parts of the plants while the remaining portions, termed bio-mass, will be harvested by machinery.

After harvest, the material will be graded and dried. Like the harvesting drying will be tailored to the quality and intended use of the plant material. Charles Steinfeld, South Tip’s Project Manager said, “High grade product will be hand dried, hand cured, and hand trimmed for the upper end market. Then there will be the bulk to be used for lotions, distillates, and isolates.”

One of the major competitive advantages of hemp growing in Homestead is the year-round growing season. Most hemp growing operations cannot produce a crop in the wintertime. For South Tip, as with our other area farms, winter will be a prime growing season.

South Tip Hemp’s vision “Is to be both a Business to Business and a Business to Consumer corporation” said President Hal Lucas.

He continued, “We’re building a lab where we’ll be able to process our own material. We’re also bringing in a product development function where we’ll be selling to other CBD businesses but also developing our own products.” Lucas expects to have South Tip-branded products available early in 2021.

On South Tip’s future road map is a Welcome Center to be built on an approximately 8 acre plot along SW 392nd Street. This center will be the customer facing part of the hemp operation. It is envisioned to sell CBD products as well as convenience items and to host tours of the hemp farming operation. Further into the future it could be used as an event space.

From its initial start - to building greenhouses - to a pilot crop working as part of the University of Florida’s program - to now growing their first commercial crop, South Tip Hemp has moved quickly but carefully to bring hemp farming in South Florida to reality. Hal Lucas summed up the company’s approach in an email, “We are taking the roll out of our business step by step and phase by phase to make sure that each step and phase is proceeding well before we move on to the next.”

Ann Machesic contributed to this article.

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