What is in this article?:
• With their comparatively small acreage, the Ericksons choose not to compete with the area’s traditional crops. Rather, they stick to higher value, intensive management crops and personally handle the marketing.
• Their plan succeeds well enough that the family’s fourth generation of south Florida farmers now works enthusiastically on the land, sticking with it through ruinous hurricanes, droughts and whatever else Mother Nature throws at them.
THE ERICKSONS, Kim, Dale, and Krista, in one of their Canal Point, Fla., groves.
Shipped to Hindus
About 100 pounds of the Ericksons’ mango leaves are shipped weekly to Hindus, who make garlands out of them and hang them outside temples, houses and other buildings.
“We already have the trees, so why not?” Krista says. “We’re also now wholesaling fenugreek to the Hindu market. It’s used as a spice; the leaves are eaten with vegetable dishes. India grows most of the world’s fenugreek, but it’s a growing market for us. The way things worked out for us, mangoes led to curry, and curry led to everything else.”
During mango season, the Ericksons operate an on-farm roadside stand geared toward individual buyers. They will sell one mango at a time or a truckload. Some retail customers have been buying there for several generations.
“People know us and feel they’re family,” Krista says. “We send out a letter at the end of the season, thanking them for their business. They’ll write us, thanking us for being around all this time. We also have 400 customers for whom we do ripe mango shipments. Of those, we probably personally know 200.”
In 2007, they tapped into the local food movement with their vegetable business, selling to green markets, restaurants and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) customers who are members of a buying club. In a real sense, this business took the family back to the future. The vegetables are planted with a push planter and each row is carefully maintained.
“We tend to grow things a lot of people don’t grow on their own: beets, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, things like that — no corn, no green beans,” Kim says.
“After the hurricanes that hit us several years ago, we had a lot of damage to our fruit trees, and decided we had to get into vegetables. If a hurricane wipes them out, that isn’t good, but at least we don’t have the investment in them that we do in trees, and we can get back into production pretty fast.”
That experience has made them big supporters of the local ag movement.
“The more local you can get, the better off you are,” Krista says. “We’ve been very blessed to have the market options we have. I think starting local is the first step now — start local first, then move on to bigger markets, if you want to do that.
“People really are starting to look at where their food comes from. If they’re in New York or Philadelphia, they want apples that came from up there, not Argentina or Chile. People in West Palm Beach want food that comes from this area, if they can get it.”
If Alfred and Elfrida Erickson appeared on the lakeside farm today, the technology and machinery would no doubt amaze them, and they doubtless would be proud of how Dale, Kim and Krista have carried on the family tradition.
Krista started working with her father right after graduating from high school. Kim attended Penn State University and spent nine years in Pennsylvania before returning home.
“This is not just a business — it’s home,” Kim says. “We both find it very draining to be away from here. Growing up, we didn’t go to summer camp. We sold mangoes. You could say we did internships on the farm.”
Krista agrees: “Our strength comes from the muck.”