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Getting Crops to Market

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A steamer on the Loxahatchee River,
ca. 1880s.

Pioneer farmers planted pineapples, pumpkins, coconuts, peas, beans, radishes, tomatoes, and lettuce. When the crops were ripe, they were harvested and boxed for transportation to northern cities. However, getting the crops to market took a long time then. First the farmers put their shipment on a boat, sailed to the north end of Lake Worth, transferred the boxes onto wagons, and hauled them overland about seven and a half miles to Jupiter. Then they loaded the boxes onto boats again, which sailed north up the Indian River to Titusville or Jacksonville. It would be many weeks before a farmer learned if his crop had arrived safely and had been sold. If the shipment was rotten, the farmer received nothing for his crops (imagine all that work for nothing!). If he was lucky, he received much-needed money. In 1879 the Dimick and Geer families actually got a shipment of tomatoes to market in good condition and made $480 an acre, which was a small fortune then. Although many shipments rotted before making it to market, the farmers refused to give up.

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Florida East Coast railroad, ca. 1900.

A faster and less expensive mode of transportation arrived in the 1890s when Henry Flagler built his Florida East Coast Railroad down Florida’s east coast to Miami. Farmers were able to get their more perishable vegetables, like tomatoes and bell peppers, to market before they spoiled. The railroad also simplified shipping to northern markets, allowing for great expansion of agriculture. 

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Windella Pineapple Plantation, ca. 1890s.

By 1890 pineapples were a major crop throughout the area. Since pineapples, or “pines,” needed sandy soil, they were well suited to the eastern section of the county. In the 1890s, the fields of Windella Pineapple Plantation were located just north of the restored 1916 Palm Beach County Courthouse in what is now downtown West Palm Beach. But by 1929 most farmers had changed to more profitable crops. Plant diseases and freezes had destroyed the pineapple crops, and cheaper ones were imported through Miami from the Caribbean.

 

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