Thursday, December 14, 2006

Robert is Here

I first read about this farm stand in Issue 70 of The Art of Eating. When I found out I was going to be in Homestead, FL for work, I had this vague inkling of having heard of that area before. Eventually I discovered the Fruit and Spice Park, which had been featured in the same article as Robert is Here, and slowly but surely I started to remember why all of this seemed so familiar.

Once I put all the pieces together, it was an easy decision to scrap my plans to hit South Beach and check out art-deco hotels, and instead take myself on a culinary tour of this south Florida farming community.

Robert is Here is certainly a strange name for a farm stand. Here's the story, according to the Art of Eating article:

[Robert's] father was a farmer who used brokers to sell his produce. One day a broker said he'd been unable to find a buyer for a large supply of cucumbers. Robert's father asked for them back, so he'd at least be able to reuse the crates. But what to do with the cucumbers? He decided to put his six-year-old son to work.

He dropped the boy off at a nearby crossroads on a Saturday morning, along with a table, the cucumbers and some change in a coffee can. Robert sat all day. When he was picked up at dusk, he hadn't sold a single cucumber. No one had even stopped.

That can't be, thought the father. Perhaps people hadn't even noticed the small boy? He retrieved two hurricane shutters from the barn, spray-pained "Robert is Here" on each, and sent the boy back out on Saturday morning.
Okay, today this story would end up in child neglect charges, but this was 1961. Robert sold all the cucumbers, and a business was born. He started taking donations of extra produce from neighboring farmers, although when they found out how much money he was making, he had to start paying them. During the school year, he'd set up his stand with a can labeled "honor system" during the day, and get dropped off by the school bus to work the afternoon shift. By the time he was age 8, things were too busy during the day to leave the stand alone, so Robert hired his first employee.

Robert is Here continues to be a family affair. When Robert was helping me pick out fruit for my Taste of the Tropics party, he pointed out all of his kids to me, working at various tasks around the stand. It's a friendly, family kind of place, just like you'd expect. Robert himself was a great host, cutting a perfectly ripe passionfruit in half for us to share, and helping me select guavas and papayas that would be perfectly ripe in exactly 2 days time (and they were).

I didn't try one of his famous Key Lime milkshakes - something I sorely regretted when my dinner plans got pushed back a couple of hours. In addition to fruits and vegetables, both ordinary and exotic, the stand also features a huge variety of sauces, jams, jellies and honeys, most of which are available on their website. They also ship citrus, and perhaps other fruit as well.

Robert is Here
19200 SW 344th St (aka Palm Dr)
Homestead, FL

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