Homestead is a region about one hour’s drive outside of Downtown Miami with a huge farming community, and blessed with the kind of climate that lends itself perfectly to growing tropical fruits. After realising, quite naively, that the fruit I’d most associated Florida with (oranges) were out of season… I went in search of other tropical beauties… such as the jackfruit that @cnwalddemar suggested on Twitter. Now, hands up who’s heard of or tasted jackfruit? Because I hadn’t!
I arrived at the Lyons Farm, a family-run operation that have been growing and selling tropical fruits for 40 years. The owners, Megan and Dan, very kindly gave me a tour of their groves with their two kids in tow. Dan takes care of the farm now, but it was once his father’s. Daniel Lyon Senior was a very smart guy and despite being told as a kid that his dream of growing fruit would be a wasted opportunity in life, he persevered. After obtaining a doctorate in zoology he set up a small farm in 1976 and the Lyons Farm has never looked back… It’s now expanded to 125 acres!
They showed me some of their awesome fruits:
As it happened, my tour coincided with the penultimate day of the lychee crop and harvest so everybody was busy at work. Dan’s brother, Michael, was whizzing up and down on a cherry picker harvesting the clusters of Brewster Lychees, whilst Dan’s mum helped others to snip off the excess leaves and pack them.
The fruit straight off the tree was sweet and really perfumed. An almost floral fruit, but the colour was spectacular… strikingly red amongst the green lychee trees. What I found most fascinating was that the trees either decide to bear lots of fruit or nothing each year. Some years the family will harvest 50,000 lbs of the fruit, whilst the next year they may struggle to get 2 lbs! The trees appear to have a mind of their own! I’m glad that they were growing this year, that’s for sure!
This was a bit of an experiment for Dan. He doesn’t really farm them, but had a few plants left from last year and they grew fruit again this year too. I still reckon it’s the most unusual way for fruit to grow… a single fruit per plant, sat crowned on top of the stem. It looks crazy! I always presumed until recently that they grew hanging from trees like most fruit… did you know they grew like this?
A fruit that @cnwalddemar suggested I hunt down. To be honest I’m kind of scared of it! I jumped on a golf buggy with Dan, Megan and Jacob (1 year old farmer-in-the-making!) and we went for a drive around the groves.
The jackfruit look almost prehistoric. Huge spiny fruit that cling to tree trunks or hang from sturdy branches. You know when you’re near them because you can smell it. They have a very “distinct” aroma… one that’s tough to get rid of. I know this because Dan kindly allowed me to take some home… and the smell in the car as it heated up was overwhelming, almost nauseating.
We harvested a few that were ready (you know they’re ready because they are soft and if you scratch the stem then the sap runs clear). What’s critical though is that once you’ve cut the stalk you wrap it in cloth or paper towel because it ‘bleeds’ sap for a while, sometimes up to a day or so. You don’t want to get this sap near you or your clothes, it’s so sticky. Almost like chewing gum or liquid rubber.
I have the fruit on the kitchen work surface as I type this… and I’m still unsure how to eat it. Many suggestions on Instagram saying that fresh, frozen or blitzed into a smoothie/ice cream is one of the nicest, although it’s also great in curries and as fritters apparently. I can’t wait to eat it… if only to get rid of the incredibly strong perfume it gives off!
We had our fair share of avocados whilst in California, but it was brilliant to see them actually growing in the groves here. I once grew an avocado tree from a seed at home, the tree still exists, it’s several feet tall… but I don’t think it likes the English climate as it’s never grown fruit! What avocado trees do loves though, is the Florida sun. The avocado season is a little later in the year, so they weren’t ready to pick… but to watch them hanging there from the branches is incredible. If you ever get the chance to explore around a tropical fruit farm… do it. It’s very different to the apple, pear, cherry and plum orchards that are more commonplace in the UK and that I took a look at up in Hood River.
A big thanks to Dan and the family for showing me around their farm and sharing how they do things. I love the approach they take. For example, there are several trees and plants on the farm that are bearing fruit purely for the wildlife. They aren’t fit for human consumption but help to preserve the balance of birds and animals on the farm. Dan also encourages Screech Owls by installing boxes as they are a natural method to keep the rats away. That’s all to do with Dan senior applying his knowledge of zoology to maintain a happy farm… and one that I can already see will be passed down to the 3rd generation of Lyon’s.
As if that wasn’t enough Dan and Megan also took me on a short drive to explore their mango groves just across the railway tracks… check that out HERE.