The Redland, an area in south Florida between Miami, the Keys and the Everglades, got its start in the late 1800s. It was literally carved out of the tropical vegetation by determined farmers and since then has been through periods of boom and bust. The Redland’s cohesive identity was nearly lost but in recent years a new batch of farmers and entrepreneurs has brought it busting back.
A loose affiliation of businesses, farms, restaurants and older attractions like Monkey Jungle and Coral Castle has come together under The Redland name. Visitors are invited to come see how life was in years gone by and how today has its own charms to offer.
There is a self-guided online tour at http://www.redlandriot.com that has an easy to follow map. Or you can start at Cauley Square, a ten acre hidden jewel just off Route 1 (old Dixie Highway) and make your own tour from the individual pamphlets available.
Cauley Square sits right by the railroad tracks and was originally built to process and ship tomatoes. Now it’s is a warren of small shops and places to eat with paths that wander through deeply shaded gardens leading to the next tucked away spot. Several owners over the years have transformed the old warehouse and homes for the former farm workers into this fun enclave.
Two restaurants, The Tea Room and The Village Chalet offer exceptional dining. The first features soup, sandwiches, tea and lunch specials in an old Florida decor while the later offers full course meals that are superb. Try the Chalet’s lunch specials, three courses reasonably priced that may prove to be one of the best meals you find for quite a while.
The first Redland settlers came in 1895 following Henry Flagler’s railroad as it cut a lifeline through to South Florida. The railroad created a ready transport for the pioneer farmers’ tropical fruits and vegetables and many were willing to brave the bugs and heat to try their luck.
The flat and fertile land was sliced up into grids crisscrossed by dirt roads and later paved roads. But as more and more people, enticed by tales of the wonders of tropical Florida moved down, the farmers were pushed further out and their numbers dwindled as what is known as “the last crop” — houses — crept out like kudzu from Miami.
Today there are once again families — some new, some old timers — running farms and roadside stands, growing everything from tomatoes, avocadoes, strawberries and cukes to more exotic fruits like carambola, guanabana and sapote.
Some of the old original farmsteads have been restored but none are open to the public at this time. Plenty of other places including Burr’s Berry Farm, Knaus Berry Farm, R.F. Orchids and Schnebly Redland’s Winery are and can be found on the tour. There is amazing strawberry ice cream, tomatoes that taste the way they used to taste and sticky buns you want to buy by the dozen.
Along with the many roadside stands is the 40 acre Fruit and Spice Park that has three guided tours each day and free samples of really unusual fruits. Horse farms and wholesale-only nurseries line the roads and there is little here to remind one of nearby Miami and its bustle and high rise style.
Toward the end of the tour though the Redland one stumbles on Robert Is Here, a fruit stand but oh so much more. Robert Moehling started his little empire 40 years ago with a single card table at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere and a pile of cukes from his dad’s farm. When no one stopped, his dad painted a big sign proclaiming, Robert Is Here. It worked, they stopped and now Robert ships his eye-catching, mouth-watering produce almost anywhere. He has dozens of varieties, including some gorgeous heirloom fruits and veggies. One whole section is jars of jams, jellies, sauces — many made from his mother’s recipes — and on the opposite side are the requisite milkshakes. There’s usually line for a shake but it’s worth the wait.
If that’s not enough, Robert has sort of a zoo out back full of goats, emus and all kinds of fowl.
When you leave Robert’s you quickly find yourself back in today’s world as the gateway to the Keys beckons to the south. But if you head back north you can find the restored Redland Hotel built in 1904. In its lifetime it has been the first hotel, mercantile store, post office, library and boarding house in the town of Homestead.
Today, you can walk across the broad shaded porch to get lunch or dinner in the Downtown Bar and Grill.
A few miles away Florida’s Turnpike is ready to take you to your next adventure or stay on the back roads for other lost delights. Lots of places are closed on Mondays so you might want pick a different day for your tour. And if you have time, on the way down, take U.S. 1 through Miami. It switches names as it wanders through town and gives a good look at everything from industry, glitzy high rises and the waterfront to the tree-lined charm of Brickell Avenue with its European city feel.
The map shows Cauley Square at the intersection of US 1 and SW 224 St. in Miami, a good place to start your tour.
© Copyright 2012: text Sue Harrison; photos Sue Harrison and Lee Brock for MyOldFlorida.com.