Nicotra Family Shapes Florida City Farming

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Editor’s Note: Last week, we were introduced to the Nicotra family of Florida City. This is part two of their story.

Sam Nicotra farmed squash in the early years and then moved into tomatoes where he was less successful so he returned to squash at the end of his career. With squash he had two crops a season and less risk. They grew mostly yellow squash but some zucchini. Mostly they washed and packed in the field, using first 55-gallon drums to wash the squash and then later a water tank which was later refined to include brushes.

Sam and his wife, Rosemarie built their first family home in 1950-51 at 5th Avenue and 3rd Street in Florida City. Neighbors were the Bennie Marchesse, Peter Iori and Tomassi families.

During the early years, farmers purchased seed and supplies from the Kilgore and Hector Supply companies and to a lesser degree from potato farmer and packing house owner Pat Tucci. Sam remembers how well he was treated by Adrian Jacobs of Hector Supply. He found himself owing Hector Supply $1,100 during a year of a bad tomato crop. He salvaged enough from his crop to pay off the $1,100 but the trust Adrian showed is remember still today.

When Sam’s acreage became too large for him, his family and friends to harvest he turned to contractors such as J.B. Joiner who brought crews from Tennessee and Mississippi.

Sam’s brother John was five years younger than Sam. They farmed together both here and in New York State where they raised lettuce and onions. Their season here started in August before John completed the harvest in New York. Sam recalls that work here was easier than in New York where more hand work was involved.

As the tomato acreage here increased so did the need for packing house workers – a large number of tomato graders were needed. Tomatoes were also graded in the fields, returned to field boxes and trucked to the auc tion at the State Farmers Market in Florida City.

Sometimes the trucks would be lined up so long that they reached the front of the line after dark. The farmers were never certain of what they would receive for their tomatoes.

Toward the end of their farming days, the Nicotras partnered with the Heller Brothers – Pacific Packing whose local salesman was Toby Cralvitz.

Other names that come to mind are George Burns, Earl Bird, Ollie Craddock, P.J. Cornelius, Milford Lee, O.V. Barger, Frank Basso and Phil Catelino.

Sensing that farming might continue to be a financial challenge, Sam, John and their wives bought a piece of land on the east side of US-1 and built the Sea Glades Motel near where Walmart now stands. The two couples ran the motel themselves, alternating weeks. They found it was a difficult and time consuming way to earn a living and so after a number of years they sold the motel.

Sam and Rosemarie purchased a heavily wooded piece of land on SW 300 Street and built their dream house in 1987. Hurricane Andrew took away their pines.

The social life in Florida City for the Nicotras revolved around 8-10 couples who spent lots to time together at a time when life was much simpler.

The Nicotra family is just one of many that shaped Florida City.

Bob Jensen is Vice President for Community Liaison at 1st National Bank of South Florida, president of the Florida Pioneer Museum and a retired Navy Commander.