Farm Tropical just launched its
last week, but forager Nick Bernal has been working with local South Florida farms for more than three years. He's already supplied Whole Foods, community-supported agriculture programs, and great chefs like Kris Wessel ofRed Light Little River
and Timon Balloo ofSugarcane Raw Bar Grill
Now Bernal has partnered with web developers Fabio Galarce and Chris Cayon to form a company with a simple yet important mission: Let farmers focus on growing and developing quality produce, not on marketing and selling their products. "Farmers don't have the time to both farm and market their produce," Bernal explains.
The website boasts a wide array of tropical fruits from South Florida, including anon, longan, jicama, mamey, mamoncillo, and tamarind. But the fruits all come at a hefty price. Two and a half pounds of South Florida mangoes cost $29.95, and five pounds cost $49.95, UPS next-day shipping included.
The website also offers "tropical" raw, unprocessed honey, including tupelo, lychee, and avocado varieties. A six-ounce honey bear retails for $15.00, with shipping. Bernal points out that lychee honey is a rarity nationwide, and he's very proud to offer it.
All of these goods are sold through a monthly club option too, with special packages catering to dragon fruit, mango, honey. and mixed tropical fruit.
But Bernal acknowledges the boxes are expensive, especially for South Florida residents who regularly rely on back-yard mango trees for their summer fix. "Shipping is the most expensive cost," he explains.
Farm Tropical is betting that consumers, and tropical fruit lovers, will pay a higher price for domestic produce grown on small farms. Bernal claims that imported products, such as mangoes, might be grown on farms with unfair wages and conditions. It's difficult to compete on price, so Farm Tropical strives to market itself as a link between small local, domestic farmers and the national market.
I couldn't help but ask Bernal about the environmental repercussions of his project. After all, fresh flavor isn't the only benefit of shopping locally, and shipping hundreds of pounds of dragon fruit across the country does leave quite the carbon footprint. Bernal reasons that there's a significant demand for these tropical fruits and shoppers are increasingly preferring domestic produce as a means to support domestic farmers. Whether it's Farm Tropical selling it, or another company, the demand will always be there, he claims.
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He's also aware that many immigrants from the tropics, living outside of South Florida, miss the flavors of their childhood. I grew up in the Caribbean, and I know I'd miss my jugos de chinola if I couldn't stop by a local market to pick up a couple of pounds of the wrinkly, vibrant passion fruit. Whether I'd be willing to pay $29.95 for two and a half pounds of it depends greatly on exactly how nostalgic I'm feeling.
Knowing this, Bernal is currently exploring the possibility of adding a "pick-up" option at their warehouse on Bird Road. South Florida residents could then purchase a selection of the local fruits without paying for the pricey shipping. In the meantime, locals can request special orders - with special pricing - via their website.
Farm Tropical is brand new, and it's definitely still working out a few kinks. But, so far, it's surely a great vessel for supporting local South Florida farmers.