At 8 a.m. this morning, D and I were en route to Canal Point in Palm Beach County to attend a tour of Erickson Farm organized by the Slow Food Glades to Coast convivium. It was our Sunday field trip, I told my poor, half-awake husband who was gracious enough to drive the nearly 100 miles.
Erickson Farm is a family-owned operation along the Eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. Its beginnings date back to 1911 when Swedish immigrants, Alfred and Elfrida Erickson, settled along the lake and began farming with their four children. Two of the children, Floyd and William, continued with the family business growing squash, peppers, beans and other vegetables. Floyd later became interested in fruit and began planting mangos and avocados. In 1974, Floyd’s son, Dale, took over the mango production and started growing other tropical fruit. Today, Dale runs the farm with the help of his two daughters, Krista and Kim. Krista’s son, Brendan, who told us he was part pirate, part farmer also helps grandpa around the farm.
Kim welcomed us and was our guide for the day. The groves at Erickson Farm sit on 60 acres of land, she told us. Aside from mangos, they grow papaya, star fruit, mamey, avocado, sugar apple, sugar cane, Thai bananas, longans, lychees, dragon fruit and others.
He’s an old one, this mango tree.
Along the way, Kim showed us the oldest mango tree on their property, which was transplanted to where it stands in 1920 — a testament to how long her family has been farming. It’s one massive mango tree.
Fourty-three varieties of mango grow on the Erickson property. Interestingly, the farm does good business selling green mangos for pickling and cooking wholesale. Ripe mangos are sold at the farm and by the box for roadside sales but there is less of that now, Kim tells us. This is mainly due to the large amounts of mangos, many of which are imported, now available at supermarkets at lower prices. To stay competitive, the Ericksons are focusing more on growing specialty mangos.
The group walking along a path lined with star fruit trees.
Throughout the tour, we heard about how the Ericksons have adapted to market conditions, recovered from three hurricanes and tried to do new things to stay competitive. Hearing this reinforced why it’s important to try to support local growers.
What used to be a greenhouse before it was hit by Hurricane Wilma.
I was surprised to learn that the farm grows curry leaves, lots of them, which they were selling well until the USDA quarantined the leaves for potential infestation with Asian citrus psyillid, a pest of Florida citrus.
When the tour ended, we sat at some picnic tables under a huge tree and tasted several mango varieties grown at the farm. Kim also brought us some frozen lychees and blackberries. It was so nice to sit in the shade and taste the fruit after our tour.
For lunch we had sandwiches from Whole Foods and sides brought by chef Zach Bell of Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach, who was on the tour with us (he is also a Slow Food Glades to Coast board member). Before embarking on our close-to-two-hour drive back home, we bought a basket of mangos ($8) to bring with us. It was a long trek to Canal Point but completely worth it to get to know the Ericksons and learn more about the farms around us.