Farming might not spring to mind when you think of the Magic City. But maybe it should: Miami-Dade County is Florida’s largest producer of sweet potatoes, okra, and avocados, and the No. 2 producer of sweet corn and squash. And then there’s the economic impact. Agriculture employs more than 20,000 people countywide and produces more than $2.7 billion in sales, according to Miami-Dade County’s Office of Regulatory and Economic Resources.
Those numbers are bolstered by industrial farms that grow mass quantities of produce. But don’t overlook Miami-Dade’s small farms—including Imagine Farms in Little Haiti and Tiny Farm in Homestead—which grow lettuce, herbs, vegetables, and more that are not only good for you, but good for the earth.
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For sisters Cheryl Arnold and Lisa Merkle, walking into Milam’s Market in Pinecrest in 2021 was cause for celebration. In the produce section, bags of one of their lettuce blends were on the shelves for all to see and buy.
“We took a lot of photos,” Arnold recalls. “We were starstruck.”
For the owners of Little Haiti’s Imagine Farms, it was a full-circle moment. As kids, the Miami natives had pushed shopping carts around the store (which was then a Publix). Suddenly, it was the place where their product was being sold to the general public.
Fast-forward two years, and their greens are available at Aventura’s Plum Market and Kosher Kingdom, and the Village Market on Fisher Island, and served on dishes at hot spots like the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, 1 Hotel South Beach, the Pritikin Longevity Center, Boia De, Michael’s Genuine, and Zak the Baker.
The sisters were inspired to start farming after Merkle’s successful battle with cancer. Working with a contractor, they purchased a shipping container and built an indoor, hydroponic farm fueled by light, water (using 97 percent less than traditional farming), and minerals. The 2,400 square feet of growing space is indoors, allowing the pair and their staff to produce 365 days a year and maintain perennially ideal conditions.
To get growing, Imagine Farms partnered with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extensions in Hillsborough County and Miami-Dade County, and received support from the Florida Department of Agriculture. Then, they brought on Australian wellness celebrity Joe Cross, known for his documentary, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, to help raise funds to expand the farm. They also recruited expert farmers from around the country who marry traditional farming with new technology. Merkle and Arnold point to their network of fellow small farmers throughout Miami-Dade County (and beyond) as a source of support and encouragement.
“There’s such an amazing, supportive community out here and we were able to really flourish,” Arnold says.
Imagine Farms currently has 14 varieties of lettuce in rotation, as well as herbs, microgreens, watercress, and gourmet mushrooms. Their crop list has been carefully curated; the sisters say they only want to work with the crunchiest, sweetest, and most tender types.
Kyle Cummings is the numbers guy and CEO at Imagine Farms, but he shares the sisters’ passion for “fresh, clean, healthy ways to grow produce locally.”
“I believe in the industry, I believe in the product,” Cummings says. “It’s not going away, it’s not a fad. Controlled-environment agriculture is basically the cutting edge.”
Arnold agrees, and wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s cool that we’re creating this legacy for future generations,” she says.
Small But Mighty
For Roberto Grossman, farmer in chief at Homestead’s Tiny Farm, size is a mindset. Sure, his growing field measures only three-quarters of an acre. But now in its fifth season, Tiny Farm has exponentially expanded its yield since Grossman tucked his first seed into the earth.
A first-generation farmer, Grossman says he’s always been drawn to nature and getting his hands dirty. Pair that with his growing dissatisfaction for the industrial food production process, and you can begin to see why he wanted to try to grow his own food. To educate himself and better understand the business, Grossman says he listened to podcasts, read books, and visited other farms.
“I started a garden in the back of my house,” he says. “That’s where the name Tiny Farm comes from.”
Grossman brought his homegrown produce to the office to share with coworkers (he used to work in marketing) and it was a hit. Eventually, he decided to become a full-time farmer. He rented land from a local family and Tiny Farm was born. Today, he leads a team of five who grow more than 40 varieties of vegetables, from tomatoes and eggplants to kale and cauliflower. Locals can participate in the farm’s CSA (community-supported agriculture) program or dine at Miami-area restaurants that use Grossman’s produce, including Mandolin, Itamae, Ariete, and Macchialina.
“You can always find people who support your vision and your project, and they’ll lend you a hand,” Grossman says. “I’m producing food for a dozen restaurants, a CSA, and a farmers market.”
Still, Grossman says, his farm and its impact is “tiny in the grand scheme of things.” No matter how big his operation gets, Grossman pledges to stay true to his ideals: making only a positive impact on the environment and the people who work the land. That means competitive wages and earth-friendly practices. “We do everything by hand. Zero fossil fuels. No machine is operated by gas in the field.”
As for the future, Grossman will only hint at bigger things to come. “There are some plans in the works,” he says, coyly.
Miami-Dade County farms by the numbers. Source: 2017 Census of Agriculture
$837,734,000 The market value of products sold from Miami-Dade County farms
95% are family farms
73% of farms have less than 10 acres
70% of farms are used for cropland
37% of farms are run by women
29 acres the average size farm in Miami-Dade County
11% of Florida produce sales of Miami-Dade
3% use no till practices
4 the county’s rank in the state for producing vegetables, melons, potatoes, and sweet potatoes
1% farm organically
Not ready to start farming your own food? Here are three spots where you can try on the vibe for the weekend.
Knaus Berry Farm, Homestead
It’s been said that there are only two seasons in Miami-Dade: when the Knaus Berry Farm bakery is open, and when it’s closed (during the summer months). But come November, you can bet folks will be making the trek west for the farm’s famous strawberry shakes and cinnamon rolls, plus the seemingly endless fields of u-pick strawberries and tomatoes. Pro tip: Bring home a few dozen extra cinnamon rolls and store them in your freezer to reheat at your leisure. Thank us later when your kitchen is filled with the warm scents of cinnamon and vanilla.
If it’s farm critters you crave, make your way to Pinto’s Farm (just across the street from Monkey Jungle). Goat yoga sessions for all ages aside, kids can enjoy pony rides, a petting zoo, and feeding encounters with an array of adorable animals from exotic Muntjac deer and Fennec foxes to common cuddly creatures like ponies, pigs, bunnies, donkeys, and more.
The Berry Farm, Homestead
What isn’t there to do at The Berry Farm? With acres of sunflowers blooming year-round (pick them yourself for $1 per stem), strawberry fields bursting with u-pick fruit by the pound from December through March, tractor-fueled farm tours, plus a kid-friendly obstacle course, bounce floor, playground, and giant hay barrel stack (complete with tunnels), this is your go-to spot for family fun and Instagram-worthy escapades.