The Final Harvest

Developers are hungrily eyeing Dade's agricultural heartland, where farmers are a dwindling breed

"Pardon me, is that your home?
"The house you worked so hard to own.
Sure would make a nice hotel.
We have ways to make you sell!"

The rangers tear through the house, raiding the refrigerator, throwing mother and daughter down the stairs, stripping a portrait of George Washington off the wall. This, as they sing about the ease of home invasion. The video ends with an image of the family locked in a cattle truck and carted away.

As the lights went up in the commission chambers, opponents of the park's proposal clapped. Superintendent Frost fumed. "I was stunned," he remembers. "It was so extreme, bigoted, and insulting. At first it was very uncomfortable to sit there and not respond, but it was overkill on their part."

Frost believes the film backfired on the Farm Bureau. Out of the commission meeting came a working group of land-holding interests, environmentalists, and government officials. The forum has obligated the parties to work toward consensus. "We got to know each other personally," says Frost. "There are no more cheap shots in public -- with the exception of Tom Kirby. That's his modus operandi."

Among those who advocate keeping a whole range of options open, including unlimited development for the Redland, the Farm Bureau is the most strident, says Frost.

"The Farm Bureau says, 'Protect borrowing power.' If that is really what they are interested in, there are ways to do it. I would be happy to be a champion of that cause. But protection for farmers is different from saying that land should be turned into residential. It's a hard reality, but ultimately it's going to take a planning effort."

There are signs that long-range planning will go forward, whether the Farm Bureau wants it to or not. At the end of April, despite Farm Bureau opposition, Dade Mayor Alex Penelas endorsed a contract to perform the agriculture retention study. At a meeting in South Dade, dozens of speakers, farmers, and activists voiced support for the plan.

In an effort perhaps to get Farm Bureau opponents to play along, county planners have said on numerous occasions that they want the plan to look at issues of farm profitability, as well as to incorporate a cost accounting of agriculture that will include its hidden benefits, such as a need for fewer services and the value of open spaces.

Lourdes Rodriguez was among those at the mayor's meeting, where farmers who had never participated in discussions on South Dade spoke up for the first time. Rodriguez is manager of Manny Diaz Farms, which has more than 1000 acres of ornamental plants under cultivation.

"The Farm Bureau philosophy is that this plan is going to tie the hands of farmers as far as what they can do with their own land," she says. "But it can't be everyone just doing what they want. If you have unplanned, uncontrolled development, then you really lose the value of your land. You can do houses anywhere, but you can't replace marl.

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