December 1, 2004
Commercial agricultural production began in central Florida in the mid 1800s and in southern Florida towards the end of the same century. The back-to-back freezes of 1894 and 1895 devastated all commercial agriculture with the exception of Dade and Broward Counties, in the extreme southeastern corner. Early transportation was by rail, which extended as far south as Palm Beach prior to the great freezes, and by ship for Dade and Broward counties. Early crops included celery (Apium graveolens L.) in central Florida and tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.). Areas such as Homestead became famous for winter tomatoes as early as the late 1890s, with production peaking in the 1920s at 35 train carloads per day. Dania (now Dania Beach), south of Fort Lauderdale, was briefly the "Tomato Capital" of Florida in the early 1900s. Production stopped due to salt water intrusion following a hurricane in 1947 and construction of the 'Dania Cut-off Canal'. Central Florida has seen a loss of 90% of vegetable land in the area to the north of Orlando. West central Florida, which includes the Palmetto-Ruskin area, has switched from growing celery to tomatoes. Plant City has been growing strawberries (Fragaria ×ananassa Duch.) as a major crop for over 100 years. Production in eastern Palm Beach County has shrunk considerably with increasing urbanization, while Homestead has seen a shift from tomatoes to snap beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) as the major crop.