Farmer’s Market An Agricultural Cornerstone

  • Bob Jensen
  • 0

  The Florida City State Farmers’ Market has made a significant contribution to the South Miami-Dade economy since it opened in January of 1940.

  Its construction was a major community undertaking under the Roosevelt administration’s Works Progress Administration. 

  James Sotille Sr. of South Dade Farms Inc. donated the twenty acres of valuable land between the Florida East Coast Railway tracks and Krome Avenue in FloridaCity. 

  Florida City Mayor Edward Stiling led the groundbreaking. 

  Jack Dolar supervised the land clearing.

  W.L. Wilson supervised construction while overseeing several market construction projects. 

  The State of Florida paid 20% of the cost. 

  The WPA approved $53,363. 

  The local committee was composed of Wm. Musselwhite, chairman, Lawrence Becker, M.E. Sever and Paul Haley of Florida City and Preston B. Bird of Homestead.

  The original plans called for a filling station, restaurant and barber shop. 

  In 1939 a Redland District News article reported that a small, attractive frame building would be built in front of the vegetable platform to house the Handicraft and Roadside Market, which would be designed to provide a selling place for those things made and produced by the women of South Dade such as jellies, candies, etc. 

  There is no record of this having occurred. 

  The first building was Unit 1 which was an elongated “T” 600’ by 57’ with the top of the “T” 400’ in length and 40’ wide. 

  The entire space was reserved by 62 buyers before the Market opened.

  Gordon E. Dill became the Market’s first manager on the recommendation of the advisory board.   

  The 38-seat restaurant was owned and managed by William Folliard who owned and operated the Cozy Diner which was located in a former railroad car just south of the Homestead City Hall on the east side of Krome.

  The first sale took place on January 25, 1940 when George Smith sold a truckload of tomatoes to Charles Ray, buyer for Tom-A-Toe Produce Co. of Atlanta six days before the official opening Wed January 31, 1940.

  Already by March of 1940 The State of Florida planned an $100,000 addition to include canning, cold storage and sheds with the WPA asked to erect four new buildings.

  In November 1941the Market cut charges in half in a bid for the patronage of truckers. 

  Stall rents were cut to $25-50. 

  Growers paid $.02 a package on all produce sold. 

  Tomatoes brought $1.50 to $2.25 with squash at $2.25 to $2.75.

  For the 1943-44 season the Market made a profit of $4,567, the only market to make a profit. 

  C.S. Phillips had become the market manager by then.

  After WWII 6,000 one-pound cartons of vine-ripened (pinks) tomatoes were flown daily by Florida Fresh Air Express to northern markets including Spokane, Seattle, Kansas City, Louisville, Detroit and Chattanooga in April of 1946.

  They were packed into 300 boxes holding 20 cartons each at the State Farmers Market. 

  G.T. (George) Barnes was the purchasing agent.

  In 1947 State Farmers Market was to construct a 60X225’ packing house to be leased to Frank Basso.

  A 200’ extension to the north platform at the market was to double its space. 

  Frank Basso became a major grower with up to 1,000 acres in crops here, in Naples and Wauchula.

  Gross sales for the 1947-48 crop at the Farmers’ Market were $1,367,240.10, a slight increase over the previous year. 

Tomatoes sold at an average price of $6.55; beans, $3.01 a hamper; squash, $5.18; cabbage, $1.85 a box; peppers, $3.94 a hamper. 

  Cucumbers, lima beans, English peas, okra, and corn made the rest of the market.

  William Musselwhite chaired the advisory board responsible for building the Florida City State Farmers Market. 

  He remained its chair for a long time. 

  Musselwhite, who came to Homestead in 1914 with his family, was uniquely qualified to lead this effort.

  He graduated from the University of Florida in 1925 with a degree in agriculture, farmed here, and was first elected to the Homestead Council in 1930, later becoming the police committeeman. 

  He married Miss Lula Smoak in 1931.  In 1932 he became president of the council and was committeeman for parks and sanitation. 

  He had much to do with the construction of the Homestead municipal airport, the swimming pool near the power plant and various parks in addition to the Farmers’ Market. 

  In 1932 he was one of the community leaders responsible for the establishment of The First National Bank of Homestead. 

  He was defeated in 1934 and ran unsuccessfully for the county commission. 

  In 1948 he was again elected to the Homestead city council and served until his death in 1957. 

  MusselwhitePark was named for him after his passing.

  Another name associated with the Farmers’ Market was Florida City Police Chief William J. Fasulo, more affectionately known as “Chief” or “Willie.” 

  He served as the elected police chief from 1952 until 1984.

  He also owned and operated a snack shop at the rear of the Florida City State Farmers Market for many years, and was the was the son of Tony and Ida Fasulo who in 1938 lived on the Florida City Canal east of Federal Highway. 

  The first mention of the Fasulo family in South Dade was in August of 1917 when Tony opened a “fruit and grocery store in the Garden Theatre block.” 

  The Chief passed away on June 18, 1984.  He was the last elected police chief in the State of Florida. 

  FasuloPark on Redland Road south of Palm Drive is named for him.

  The Market suffered immense damage after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. 

  Market manager retired Navy Captain Joe Cephus Mitchell planned and executed the Market recovery effort quickly and with vision. 

  Meanwhile the agricultural community united to encourage Miami-Dade County to construct nearly 1,000 units of temporary farm worker housing at the Andrew Center southwest of Florida City so the first crop after the hurricane could be harvested. 

  Of all our local industries agriculture was the one which recovered the quickest and led the South Dade post-hurricane economic recovery.

  The Florida City Farmers’ Market has been the hub of agricultural marketing in SouthMiamiDadeCounty since 1940. 

  Where the Florida East Coast Railway transported much of the crops to markets in the north, trucks later took over and can be seen all hours of the day and night leaving for the north.