A South Miami-Dade u-pick strawberry farm can continue growing fruit, the Redland Community Council decided Wednesday.
The council unanimusly approved a variance to allow Strawberry Fields of Kendall, at 117th Avenue and 160th Street, to continue farming tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, cabbage and strawberries in an area zoned industrial.
Miami-Dade County rezoned the site from agricultural to industrial in 1984, but the county allowed farming to continue because the agricultural use predated the rezoning. Farming is not normally allowed in industrial zones.
Strawberry Fields has occupied the site since the mid-1980s. But around 2005, Strawberry Fields’ landlord decided to build warehouses on the site, said Lynn Chaffin, Strawberry Fields’ owner. Farming ceased for about two years.
When those plans fell through in 2008, Chaffin resumed farming on the site.
By that point, however, county officials said Strawberry Fields had abandoned its right to farm on the site.To continue farming on the site, which is now surrounded by warehouses, Strawberry Fields needed the variance that the Community Council granted on Wednesday.
County staff had recommended that the elected council reject the variance because the farm was not compatible with the surrounding industrial uses.
But council members said Strawberry Fields has been a farm for a long time and wasn’t asking for anything new.
“That piece has always been there as a u-pick field,” said Curtis Lawrence, the council’s vice chair. “I live a few blocks from there.”
But Chaffin argued that the site would likely be vacant if he weren’t farming it.
“The benefits to the community and the benefits to the public far outweigh any of the negatives,” Chaffin told the council. “What would this place be if there weren’t any farming on it? Probably an overgrown grass and weeds.”
Susan Blake, who lives East of the Turnpike in the same area and shops at the farm, was one of three people who spoke in favor of the farm.
“They employ senior citizens. There are a lot of people from the community, North and South, who go there. A lot of local people go there. We don’t have a Farmers’ Market to go to,” she said. “It’s a treasure.”
In the early 80s, farms took the majority of the land between 168th Street and 152nd Street.
Today, Chaffin’s farm is the only one left.