National team sees agro-tourism, marketing saving Miami-Dade's farmlands
By Frank Norton
National consultants are mapping new ways to market Miami-Dade County agriculture, including agro-tourism and increased local distribution of produce.
A four-day planning session on the county's farming and rural land use wrapped up in Homestead this week, bringing together citizens, public officials and private experts to discuss ways to strengthen local farmland by finding new ways to market it and its products.
Leading the team of national experts was Miami-based planning and design firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., commissioned by the county in 2001 to conduct a broader, roughly $550,000 Agriculture and Rural Area Study due in March 2003.
This week's charrette-style Homestead meetings were held to gather input from local stakeholders and experts.
"We had a lot of very good information, not only from team members but from various participants," said Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk of the firm, which will publish meeting summaries and specific policy recommendations in February.
"The agricultural studies we had in place were not optimistic," she said, referring to grim University of Florida analyses updated in April, "but since the latest data have been compiled we've discovered it's an even more dynamic situation and a valuable land area to the county in the long view."
According to the University of Florida, despite contributing more than $1 billion to the local economy, the agriculture industry is threatened by imports, labor and compliance costs and local development pressures.
Most of the county's 85,000 acres of rural farmland stretches around Homestead, the last rural stronghold in the county, experts say.
Initial goals, participants said, are to save as much of that agro-land as possible and devise more profitable ways to bring it to market.
"A lot of people are saying that (the southern Miami-Dade) land area should never be urbanized the way the rest of the county is, so one would hope many of the large tracks remain as properties continue to change hands over the future," Ms. Plater-Zyberk said.
"It's over $1 billion to the county and most people don't realize. But studies still show the land is important to many in the county who think that if we need to pay to keep it undeveloped we should," said Ms. Plater-Zyberk, also is dean for the University of Miami school of architecture.
"I don't know what the agro area is going to look in five or 10 years," said Lee Rawlinson, assistant director of planning for Miami-Dade County. "That's the purpose of the study. But if you don't retain enough land for agriculture you're not going to be able to respond to any economic changes that occur anyhow."
Aside from saving the land from development, Duany Plater-Zyberk recommended stepping up marketing efforts to boost the area as a destination and a producer of local goods.
"We were stunned to find that of almost none of the products grown in the county sell in Miami. They're all shipped away to other markets," said Marina Khoury, project manager with Duany Plater-Zyberk.
"There is such an opportunity there to market local products locally or set up agricultural visitor centers. That could be a farm walk, or bed and breakfasts, or school trips, classes on better ways to cook mangos," she said. "And we think it is really important to have a fulltime liaison in charge of coordinating those efforts at the county level."
Some specific objectives include:
as much of the 85,000 acres of agro-land as economically feasible.
to eliminate international trade barriers.
design that maintains and enhances rural quality of life.
transportation on rural roads and corridors.
toward balanced federal and state environmental, water and conservation policies
compatible with agriculture.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk said any future for local agriculture will rely on coordinated local, state, national and international planning for business, trade and the environment.