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Introduction

In 1879 the first tomato fields on the east coast of Florida were planted…their success proved that tomato growing in mid-winter would pay. Now there are many tomato fields on Lake Worth.
-Lydia Bradley, 1896

Palm Beach County covers over 2,300 square miles and is one of the largest counties in the State of Florida, and even larger than some other states.

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Map of Palm Beach County.

Over the years, Palm Beach County has been known by several nicknames, including “Winter Vegetable Capital of the United States.” When most of the nation is under snow and ice and it is too cold to grow vegetables, Palm Beach County farmers grow 26 major crops. During the 2006-07 season, 467,480 acres were used for agriculture in the county, which is more than any other county in Florida. 

Palm Beach County agriculture occupies two distinct areas. The western section of the county is commonly referred to as the “Glades,” because the land was formerly part of the Everglades. The soil is organic muck, nicknamed “black gold,” because it is so fertile. In 2007, the Glades contained over 427,000 acres within the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), which covers 700,000 acres in four counties. The facilities that support Glades agriculture include three major sugar mills, a rice mill, a dozen vegetable packinghouses, and a sugar and molasses shipping facility located at the Port of Palm Beach in Riviera Beach. 

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Laborers picking lettuce.

In the eastern half of Palm Beach County, there were 39,870 acres of agricultural enterprises in 2007, mostly in or near Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Wellington, Jupiter, and Loxahatchee Groves. The sandy soil in this section is used mostly for crops such as bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, and Chinese vegetables; plant nurseries; and equestrian (horse) uses. 

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Sorting cucumbers.

Without farmers, we would have to grow our own food or walk through a lot of fields and forests hunting for something to eat, as the early pioneers did. Farmers grow vegetables and fruit, and raise cows that supply milk and meat for us to eat. These products are sold to companies that process, package, and sell the final product to grocery stores and restaurants. From the planting of the seeds to the selling of the food in the stores or serving the food in restaurants or at home, a lot of jobs depend on agriculture.

 

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© 2009 Historical Society of Palm Beach County  |  all photos courtesy HSPBC unless otherwise noted