Category Archives: agriculture

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture declares a State of Emergency over Oriental Fruit Fly infestation September 15, 2015

Adam Putnam has declared a State of Emergency as a result of state officials finding an infestation of Oriental Fruit Fly in the Redlands in south Miami-Dade County.

A quarantine extends over 87 square miles prohibiting export of fruit and vegetables from the quarantined area.   The area supplies much of the nation’s winter vegetables.

State officials have already destroyed 80 tons of fruits and vegetables grown in south Miami-Dade County.

A copy of the State’s proclamation appears verbatim in a post below.

Proclamation.

The Ancient Floating Gardens and Canals of Mexico City’s Xochomilco (“So-Cho-Mil-Co”) Part I

1950's colorized photo postcard of reclaimed and canalized Lake Xochimilco, along with farmers on canal boats.

1950’s colorized photo postcard of canalized Lake Xochimilco

Predating the Hispanic Period and geographically south of the main capital city of Mexico was an ancient large lake called Lake Xochomilco. Over the centuries, beautiful flowers and agricultural products were grown above the water on tall stalks, anchored to trees and filled in the rich mulch and soils from the lake bottom. Eventually, early farmers in the area separated by the capital city built canals and colorful canal boats for transit to and from the central Mexico City with their produce.

Over the centuries, Mexico City has grown outwardly, incorporating this former lake bed covering 48 square miles, sustaining a population of almost half a million, mostly farmers.  In 1928,  Xochomilco became recognized as an independent city.  For hundreds of years, these farmers cultivated their lush flowers, plants, and produce above the water, traveling on these colorful canal boats. On Sundays, tourists and townspeople have travelled to see these brightly colored boats filled with their produce for market. Some tourists have boarded these canal boats to tour these canals and view the ancient methods of growing produce.

Farmers on their canal boats tending to their crops above the waters of Lake Xochimilco.

Farmers on their canal boats tending to their crops

Despite Xochomilco’s status as an independent city, Mexico City has drained off much of the water for its own needs and drilled wells for more water, which has caused subsidence of the land created by the canal people who populated the Lake.  The draining off of potable water has left the lake people with degraded land above the water and non-potable water.  The need to protect this ancient cultural site has caused UNESCO to place Xochomilco on the World Heritage Sites list.

The Palm Beach Farms Company, Percy Hagerman, and Colorado silver mining

The Lake Worth Drainage District celebrated its (1915-2015) centennial yesterday.  Between 1915 and 1935, more than 125 drainage districts formed in Florida to prevent flooding.  Nineteen districts formed in Palm Beach County alone.  These local districts (secondary drainage) are under the supervisory control of the South Florida Management District (primary drainage).  Both monitor the weather closely and remain in close contact with each other.  The SFWMD has the final say over whether the flood gates should be open or closed, based upon the total amount of rainwater expected each day.

One of the largest secondary systems, the LWDD manages the water in an area once called the Palm Beach Farms, an immense agricultural operation that resulted from the public lands granted the Florida canal company that built the Intracoastal Waterway and Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway and their subsidiaries from St. Augustine and Miami. In total, the Palm Beach Farms Company bought approximately 234 square miles of land from the Okeechobee Road to the south Palm Beach County line in 1912.  That land now lies within the Lake Worth Drainage District.  The principals behind the Palm Beach Farms Company in 1912 were silver mine owners and brokers from Colorado.  Headed by Percy Hagerman (1869-1950), the Florida farming company had been incorporated in Colorado.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Hagerman graduated from Cornell University, and studied law for one year at Yale University.  Adding to his family’s immense wealth, Hagerman invested in railroads and mines in Colorado Springs where he resided, in addition to his investments in Florida real estate.  Old Percy Field at Cornell is named in honor of Hagerman; Hagerman Park at Colorado Springs is also named for Hagerman.  Hagerman was a master rower while attending Cornell. At Colorado Springs, Hagerman became famous as an artist throughout the West for his mountainscape paintings.

History of invasive plant management in Florida’s public waters

Invasive water plants like the water hyacinth nearly enveloping the water course for a steamer in the St. Johns River in the ca. 1890's.

Invasive water plants like the water hyacinth nearly enveloping the water course for a steamer in the St. Johns River in the ca. 1890’s.i

Reportedly, water hyacinths were introduced into the waters of the St. Johns River and the Ocklawaha River as early as the 1880s.  The history of the growth of invasive aquatic plants has paralleled the growth in the use of steamboats in these waters. By the turn of the century, the invasion of these plants interfered with steamboat traffic.  Dense hyacinth growth interfered with docking at Palatka and dense mats of plant growth pushed flat bottomed steamers off course in Lake George.

In 1899, Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to eliminate plant obstructions in the navigable waters of the southeastern United States.  While the railroad replaced the steamboat as the primary mode of travel in Florida by the 1920’s, the growth of invasive plant species continued to choke off navigable waters throughout Florida, reduced biodiversity, deprived the waters of oxygen, killed off fish and other aquatic life, and disrupted ecosystems dependent on the growth of the smallest living animals for food.

Methods of removing water hyacinths and other invasive plant species included a wide variety of mechanical means like large cutters and choppers and long draglines to pull large mats of plants from the surface of navigable waters.  Courtesy, IFAS, University of Florida.

 

Middle River tributary to the New River (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) site of Ramie growing

 

Middle River looking west toward the Florida East Coast Railway tracks in the distance

Middle River looking west toward the Florida East Coast Railway tracks in the distancMiddle River looking west toward Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad. First railroad bridge built in 1896 as Flagler’s men moved like a juggernaut toward completion in Miami within just a few short months after the Florida East Coast Canal reached Miami.  Courtesy, the author.

In 1892, U.S. Senator Duncan U. Fletcher (a strong backer of the Florida canal company) and others attempted to exploit a form of fiber called Ramie. Several Florida canal company officials became increasingly interested when an inventor obtained a patent on a decorticating machine that efficiently stripped useful fiber from the plant, yielding many times what previous machines had stripped from the plant. Ramie became useful in rope, sack, and heavy cloth making.

Fletcher’s group obtained the right to use the machine on an experimental basis and bought 1,300 acres of ramie lands along the Middle River north of the Town of Ft. Lauderdale from the Florida canal company.

For a while, the experiment yielded good results until Mexico heavily competed against the U.S. in the production of ramie. Consistently undercutting the U.S. in labor and production costs, production of ramie in the U.S, became a losing proposition. By 1912, Fletcher’s group had converted its agricultural lands into land development for housing, subdividing the land into scores of small lots in a subdivision called Progresso, north of the town of Ft. Lauderdale.

These small lots sold at auction attracted buyers from all over the country. So many prospective buyers arrived that buyers slept in scores of tents in an area north of the original Town of Fort Lauderdale colloquially called “tent city.” There was not even enough housing for the influx of prospective buyers of lots in the subdivision.

Boarding up Celery at Sanford, Florida, on the St. Johns River

It seems that celery has always been the staple crop of Sanford, Florida. One of my African-American friends, W. George Allen, just retired from the practice of law at 70 years old, a veteran of the civil rights movement.  George grew up in Sanford. As a child, George picked celery every day during the dark days of segregation.  One day in the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale George showed me the palms of his hands. Long, thin lines scarred his palms from pulling celery stalks out of the ground during childhood.  He left Sanford, graduated from Howard University, and was the first Black to graduate from the University of Florida Law School.

Located strategically on Lake Monroe, near Orlando, on the southern stretch of the St. Johns River, at the turn of the 19th century steamboat traffic between Sanford and Jacksonville had always been heavy and profitable.  However, in the early 1920s, a threat to Sanford’s agriculture and trade business appeared imminent. The threat was the privately owned Florida East Coast Canal, now a completed tollway between Jacksonville, Fla., and Miami.

The Corps of Engineers could not make up its mind. Should it recommend to Congress the taking over of the old Florida East Coast Canal?    Or recommend a change in course and the larger and deeper St. Johns River south, near Titusville, thence a short connecting Canal to the southern part of the old East Coast Canal?  If the Army recommended the old East Coast Canal, it would spell the death knell for Sanford and Central Florida. If the Corps decided upon the St. Johns River route, Daytona Beach and its thriving tourist business would be cut out of the picture. The Corps held four hearings in 1922 throughout the east coast to decide the question.