This is the latest installment of an occasional series called Where We Live, highlighting South Florida neighborhoods.
Here, south and west of Miami’s hustle, nights are as black as too-strong coffee and days bear the glare of the sun by showing off the hues of the land: the reddish-brown of soil; the blue of endless sky; the shiny green of sprouting seedlings; the mottled white of coral rock walls; the yeoman gray of the occasional metal roof.
Going to Redland means a visitor journeys not only away from the city but into another dimension. Into the past. Into a vanishing way of life. Into, some might argue, the vast and verdant heart of an increasingly congested county.
“People come here to get away,” says Bob Fuchs, a longtime Redland resident who runs R.F. Orchids with Michael Coronado and whose family roots in the area go back to his great-grandparents. “When we give the garden tours, someone always says, ‘I didn’t even know this existed.’”
Indeed. Redland may be one of Miami-Dade’s best kept secrets, often playing second fiddle to the more prominent incorporated areas of Homestead and Florida City, and the amorphous neighborhood known as Kendall. Agritourism, however, is slowly changing that, and a handful of dedicated residents have organized tours, road rallies and gourmet dinners under the stars to attract visitors. Locals from as far away as Aventura and Miami Beach take day trips for a glimpse at the greenery and a breath of fresh air — and for the fresh fruit milkshakes, U-pick’em fields and homemade baked goods that have come to symbolize the region.
Bound by the inhospitable Everglades to the west and a meandering U.S. 1 to the east, topped by Southwest 184th Street to the north and hemmed in by the City of Homestead to the south, Redland predates most everything that is now synonymous with The Magic City. Before there was a South Beach, there was a Redland. Before there was a West Kendall or a Miami Gardens or a Pinecrest, too.
Actually what we’ve come to know as Redland even predated Henry Flagler’s transformative railroad. In the 1890s, homesteaders began clearing and farming land, named for its holes of red clay that cover a layer of oolite rock. They lived in tents and in lean-tos. There were no window screens, and muslin cloth was used to keep away the critters. Life was far from easy. Think heat, mosquitoes, flooding, dense woods and rocky soil.
“You came here because everything else was taken,” explains Bob Jensen, president of the Florida Pioneer Museum in Florida City. “They were really hardy souls.”
A handful of pioneer families settled in the area, Jensen added, lending their name to narrow roads that now crisscross farmland. Many of their descendants still live nearby. Those first Redland farmers developed a method of agriculture known as plow-breaking that opened the area west of U.S. 1 to row crops. To check out a still-standing structure of those early years, Jensen recommends a visit to Redland Grocery on Redland Road (SW 187th Avenue) and Bauer Drive (SW 264th Street). It used to be the old Redland Guild Hall building, “where every social event happened, from dances to potluck dinners.”
The first harvests were quite diversified — cabbage, carrots, eggplant, beans, tomatoes. Eventually farmers ventured into citrus, then avocadoes and mangoes. As land became more expensive beginning in the 1980s and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) hurt some U.S. farmers’ bottom line, the ornamental nursery industry blossomed as a better financial return on the land. Today’s residents include Cuban and Asian farmers as well as weekend dabblers and farm-to-table enthusiasts.
Like its county cousins to the north and south, Redland has had its share of ups and downs. Hurricanes have devastated crops, and the boom-and-bust cycles of Florida real estate have not spared the area. World WarII had an outsized impact, too, when the Homestead Army Air Field began its military mission in 1942, opening the community to the world. Eventually some of those veterans would return to live and farm there. The base would close and then reopen in 1952 as Homestead Air Force Base. (It’s now known as the Homestead Air Reserve Base.)
And the railroad that prompted all this? Part of it is now the busway that parallels South Dixie Highway.
“It’s very interesting that something so rural was started in reaction to something so industrial,” notes Miami-Dade College historian Paul George, who wrote A Journey Through Time: A Pictorial History of South Dade.
Most people who now make the trek south visit the well-known sites: Knauss Berry Farm, Burr’s Berry Farm, and Robert is Here Fruit Stand, which is, if one wants to nitpick, south of the area’s official boundaries. They enjoy close encounters with monkeys at Monkey Jungle and shake their heads at the power of unrequited love in Coral Castle, built by an infatuated man who was probably off his rocker. They attend a dizzying variety of festivals at the Fruit and Spice Park, which includes a 1902 pioneer house that was moved there from its original location eight miles away in the 1980s. They go antiquing at Cauley Square.
But many new and not-so-new attractions abound, from the fascinating Schnebly Winery and Brewery, where tastings of wine crafted from tropical fruits are increasingly popular, to a healthy variety of fruit stands and markets along Krome Avenue, the area’s main drag.
Even as development has crept into the northern and eastern edges, Redland residents — and county officials — have fought to keep true to its history. Though there are acre and 21/2 acre ranchettes, a five-acre per unit zoning remains. And residents and historians have been working on several grassroots efforts to showcase tropical agricultural and keep rural tradition alive.
Yes, Redland is growing in unexpected ways. Fuchs notes that traffic has progressively worsened in the past decade. Now one is as likely to get stuck behind a tractor as a red Ford pickup bringing home a resident from a city office job. And there are more ornamental nurseries than ever before. But…in some corners, far from the paved streets and the newer McMansions, farmland — plowed land or obedient green rows, depending on the season — stretches to the horizon, flat as an airport runway.
“There’s more development, more people, a tremendous amount of change,” concedes Fuchs, whose nursery sits on the site that was a wedding gift from his great grandparents to his grandparents in 1921. “But there’s still farming and there is that peacefulness and serenity that comes with living in the country.”
Where to go
FOOD & DRINK
▪ Dinner in Paradise: A series of local food experiences designated to celebrate farms, chefs, breweries and food entrepreneurs dedicated to good, sustainable food. Pricey ($165.50 plus tax per person for 2015 season) but worth it. First dinner Jan. 11. Brainchild of Paradise Farms Organic. Reservations required. Contact email@example.com or 305.248.4181. Also visit http://paradisefarms.net/dinner-in-paradise/
▪ Schnebly Winery & Brewery. Specializing in wine crafted from tropical fruits but so much more. Weekend entertainment, tours and beer — all in a lovely tropical setting. 30205 SW 217th Ave., 305-242-1224, www.schneblywinery.com
▪ Knaus Berry Farm. A beloved institution known primarily for its cinnamon buns, milkshakes and other bakery items. Warning: Lines are very long on weekends, holidays and when school lets out. 15980 SW 248th St., 305-247-0668. www.knausberryfarm.com
▪ Robert is Here Fruit Stand. Technically not in Redland but a favorite among tourists and townies. 19200 SW 344th St., 305-246-1592, www.robertishere.com
The Mango Café at the Fruit and Spice Park. Locals rave about this one. Yummy Florida lobster rolls, wraps and tropical beverages. 24801 SW 187th Ave., 305-247-5727, Check out at: www.fruitandspicepark.org/index.php?Itemid=7
▪ Sam & Philly, Country market with a variety of produce grown seasonally on the farm. Also a selection of homemade goodies and fruit milkshakes. 16790 SW 177th Ave., 305-235-3276. www.samandphillys.com
▪ Curbside Market & Milkshakes. Opened three years ago, it has won over locals. Locally grown produce, U-pick field, homemade jams, jellies, pickles, sauces and honeys. Specialty: cinnamon and pecan rolls. 29100 Krome Ave., 305 878-5524, check for their facebook page.
▪ Margarita’s Fruits & Vegetables. A pop-up café of rustic dining with a definite Latin twist. Mentioned by various local foodies. Unlike many of the other places, this one is open all year. 15585 Krome Ave., 305-233-7793.
▪ Burr’s Berry Farm. Residential communities have now surrounded what was once an outpost, but this farm continues in the family. Known for its strawberries, milkshakes and ice cream. 12741 SW 216th St., 305-251-0145, www.burrsberryfarm.com
▪ Phil’s Berry Farm. Run by a former teacher and ornamental tropical fish farmer, this farmstand bills itself as an alternative to the long lines often found in other more established places. Check out the shakes, smoothies and bakery products. Open Friday through Monday. 13955 SW 248th St., 305-905-2284. www.philsberryfarm.com
▪ R.F. Orchids. You’ll forget your worries in this lush wonderland., Walking tours on weekends. 28100 SW 182nd Ave., 305-245-4570. www.rforchids.com
▪ Cauley Square History Village. Antique and collectible shops. Three restaurants, most notably The Tea Room. 22400 Old Dixie Highway, 305 258-3543 www.cauleysquare.com
▪ Coral Castle. Proof that love can be crazy. Ed Leedskalnin sculpted a garden of 1,100 tons of coral for a lost love. 28655 S. Dixie Highway, 305 248-6345, www.coralcastle.com
▪ Monkey Jungle. The name says it all. The Rainforest Adventure Tour provides for a “closer encounter” with our cousins. 14805 SW 216 St. 305-235-1611. www.monkeyjungle.com
Sunday, Dec. 21: 10th Annual Bee Heaven Farm Day. Music, hay rides, food, a fresh farm market, and more. SW 187th Avenue at SW 264th Street, 305-247-8650 www.beeheavenfarm.com
Jan. 10 Redland Riot Road Rallye. An automobile adventure with stops at historical sites. www.redlandriot.com
www.redlandtrail.com. A self-guided tour of South Florida’s historical roots.
Tropical Everglades Visitor Center, 160 SE First Ave., Florida City. 305-245-9180. www.tropicaleverglades.com
Redlandrambles.com. Blog about happenings in the area.
Florida Pioneer Museum, 826 North Krome Dr., 305-246-9531. Open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday. Once an early 20th-century East Coast Railway agent’s house, this museum features turn-of-the-century memorabilia and fascinating records of pioneer life. There is also an antique train car and a 100-year-old train station. The station includes an authentic pioneer-style community gathering space.