The Palm City Farms Story
History of Palm City Farms
The Dawson family has owned the property at the corner of SW Citrus Blvd and Martin Highway for more than 30 years—since the mid-1980’s.
During those thirty years, not much has changed in Palm City Farms. Actually, little has changed since 1910, when a Palm Beach lawyer named Charles Chillingworth purchased 12,000 acres of land on the west bank of the St. Lucie River only a couple of miles upriver from Downtown Stuart for $1.91 an acre, formed the Palm Beach Land Company, subdivided the land into 10-acre lots, and named them Palm City Farms.
Then, as is typical of Florida land booms, Chillingworth’s land company ran a massive marketing campaign all across the US, Canada, and Europe to lure dissatisfied northern urbanites to new lives in the Sunny Florida wilderness.
Leave your dirty, sickly, industrialized city life behind. For just $50 an acre, you can move your family to a healthful and fertile ten-acre lot where the weather is always warm, the air is always clean, you are your own boss, and you can make your fortune. Oh, and get a free city lot near the river in Old Downtown Palm City to maintain a semblance of civilization in the wilderness and keep the wife happy.
Some bought into this dream sight-unseen. For those who could make the trip, the land company provided all-expense-paid tours of the area. Because many of the urban dwellers had little if any experience farming, one of the key stops on the tour was a Demonstration Farm with flourishing pineapple, orange and grapefruit crops to prove how abundant the land would be with minimal effort.
Chillingworth built it and, by 1912, the people were coming.
But as usual, things didn’t work out exactly as promised. The newly minted farmers grew enough to live on, but making money by shipping fruit and vegetables to the northern markets proved difficult due to the weather and the railroad’s transportation monopoly. The first successes came from cultivating citrus groves, palm trees, and rare plants.
21st Century Opportunities and Challenges:
Today, due to quirks of timing, hurricanes, and history, Martin County has largely escaped the ravages of unbridled population growth that has made the rest of South Florida almost unrecognizable. As a result, even though most of the roads have been paved, the drainage slightly improved, and the houses are bigger, life in Palm City Farms has not changed much in the 105 years since it was created. An epidemic of lethal greening has destroyed most of the citrus groves, but residents of Palm City Farms are still growing their own food, palm trees, and other landscape plants on their 5- and 10-acre parcels.
Part of the reason is that, in 1990, Martin County made those lots a key component of its
Comprehensive Growth Management Plan and, for the next 25+ years, the people of Martin County have worked hard to maintain them as a buffer between the urban centers east of Florida’s Turnpike and the hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural and conservation land to the west.
The 21st Century has brought a number of changes, but they have not diminished the rural character of the area. The growth of the equestrian community escalated after a series of hurricanes hit the state in 2004 and 2005. Many South Floridians realized they could sell their homes in Dade and Broward Counties and purchase a larger property in western Martin County for a fraction of their profits. Palm City Farms was especially popular because it offers the unique amenity of an extensive riding trail system.
More recently, there’s a trend back to small farms. People all over America have started asking where their food is coming from and how it’s being grown. Chefs and nutritionists have shown us that the fruits and vegetables we buy from the supermarket really are “not as good as they used to be.”
One reason is that the giant international corporations that control America’s food supply have bred the taste and nutritive value right out of them by selecting or genetically engineering varieties solely on the basis of how well they survive being shipped thousands of miles. Then, because they have to be shipped so far, these lesser varieties are picked before they’re ripe and allowed to sit for days or weeks before they ever get to market.
Add that to very real concerns about food security due to natural disaster or terrorists sabotaging our centralized food-distribution system and Americans are now clamoring for locally-grown foods—because they taste better, are safer, and the supply chain is more reliable. The bad news is that the profit margins of the corporate agricultural behemoths require centralized production and distribution. The good news is that this has created an opportunity for a new generation of small farmers to go back to the basics of providing fresh food for local markets.
This new Farm-to-Table economy is not yet fully developed in Martin County. There are still too few farmers and an inadequate distribution system to sustain it. A few local farmers sell to restaurants that proudly advertise the fact that at least some of their food is “locally sourced.” Some contract with state-wide wholesalers or grocery chains, but those contracts are hard to come by and keep year after year. Others sell things like local honey, grass fed beef, and free-range chicken and eggs at the Green Markets. But one place you seldom see them is in the super markets.
As a result, Martin County’s new small farmers are like the first settlers in Palm City Farms in 1912. Without reliable markets for what they produce, they’re having a hard time making enough money to sustain themselves. It’s a new economy that’s struggling to find firm financial footing.
This is the gap Palm City Farms Produce & Market helps fill. Located on 16 acres just minutes from Palm City, Stuart, Pt. St. Lucie, Tradition, and Indiantown, we will provide a reliable marketplace for local growers and the freshest, highest quality foods for the people who want them. Having a marketplace will make farming more profitable, which should encourage more new farmers to put seeds in the dirt.
The Market's Mission
The owner of Palm City Farms Produce & Market is Rob Dawson … a local boy and graduate of Martin County High School, Indian River State College, and Leadership Martin County.
Rob and his mother, Mary, who is a former Martin County Commissioner, have owned this property over 30 years. Now they believe they have finally discovered its highest and greatest use – as a marketplace that honors the history and spirit of the Palm City Farms Community and supports the growing Farm-to-Table Economy in Martin County by helping local growers on small farms supply Treasure Coast residents with fresh, natural foods.
Being Martin Countians at heart, they are especially interested in encouraging the use of 21st Century agricultural technologies, such as green houses, aeroponics, and hydroponics. Not only do they conserve land, water, and the environment, they also allow growers to harvest all year long rather than just once a season. That means more fresh, nutritious local food year round – not just during the winter growing season.
These growing methods combined with a reliable market to sell what is grown in them will make small local farms more profitable and will help strengthen their role as a buffer between urban and rural development in western Martin County.
To further these goals, Rob and Mary have given a local non-profit, House of Hope, an acre of land on which they are establishing an Agricultural and Vocational Production Farm. It consists of two green houses and raised planting beds which will be used to feed the needy and train them for new food-industry jobs.
Lovers of local history and the Martin County Lifestyle, Rob and Mary have worked together on community projects before -- compiling the history and data necessary to have the Martin Grade, a beautiful and historic road in western Martin County, designated Florida's 25th Scenic Highway.
Mary is also the author of the award-winning historical adventure “The River Way Home” which provides a snapshot of life in Stuart and Martin County over 100 years ago in 1914.
We hope you enjoy what we have created as much as we enjoy having you visit.
From the Vision to the Reality