Grow and package fresh, safe and nutritious vegetables which customers want and are willing to pay a fair price for, enabling sustainability, growth, and innovation in fresh produce production.
KAI-KAI FARM is forty acres 9 miles west of I-95 in Martin County's Box Ranch citrus production area. There are 20 (net) acres for vegetable production. The farm, initially built between 2003-2011 is of latest design as it incorporates all water conservation and surface water engineering features to mitigate pollution of our aquifer, rivers, and lagoon. The growing areas are virtually flat; and the sandy soil contains about 0.5 to 1% organic matter which increases each year due to compost amendments with every new planting bed. Drainage is all on-site with 1 mile of ditches and two one-acre ponds built for over 20 acre feet of rainfall retention. The vegetable growing area is regularly laser adjusted with just a small slope for sheet flow drainage of the raised bed system. The runoff collects at the headlands (where equipment drives) and "under drains" several inches below the soil surface percolate the excess and discharge the filtered water into our grass-lined (filtration) ditches which link to the ponds. Organic material is saved and recycled back into the growing area. The success of our fertilizer and organics retention plan is demonstrated by the high water quality in our detention ponds which have never been treated for algae. Our full-time pressurized irrigation system, for the miles of drip tape each season, is supplied by three 4-inch wells each about 85 feet deep. The well water, high in calcium carbonate mineral, is somewhat alkaline with a pH of 7.8. The site is master planned with 3-phase underground electrical services to four service areas and two other building pads reserved for future construction. Over two thousand eucalyptus, juniper, oak, palm and bamboo trees have been planted to provide protection from the frequent winds. All the landscaping is irrigated with water-saving drippers and sprinklers. Numerous bird houses and Martin County's largest bat house have been built and installed by our good friend Doug Brown.
Our buildings consist of recycled shipping containers. The front pole barn, built from two 40-foot containers, is for planting operations and postharvest packing; it includes an adjacent greenhouse used to grow starter plants called plugs and has also been the site of numerous special events featuring our farm-fresh produce prepared by chefs. The back barn built of four shipping containers double-stacked serves as office, maintenance, storage and irrigation control. Currently under construction are mushroom production chambers built from two 40 foot shipping containers. Our mushroom propagation and general purpose lab, built within a 40-foot former reefer container, is operational.
Protected agriculture will soon become a part of our production areas; early 2014 will see completion of a one-acre shade house for delicate plants like squash, greens, herbs and peppers. Site work on the back lot has commenced for the 10,000 square foot shiitake mushroom shadehouse. Site work is complete for the tunnel pad next to Kanner Highway.
Sadly some projects have been scrapped. The pastured chicken n' egg birdhouse, vermicompost and compost projects have been canceled due to forthcoming federal food safety rules.
Finally, for postharvest field heat mitigation and short term storage the farm has four separate walk-in coolers; three were added in 2013 thanks to the generous gift from our friends at Roosth Construction of Stuart . These offer a wide variety of temperature ranges required for the numerous vegetables Diane and her team grow.
Diane Cordeau and Carl Frost, married in 1988, share a passion for growing niche-vegetables in the very demanding Treasure Coast climate. Both worked at the University of Florida Indian River Research and Education Center while Carl obtained his undergraduate bachelor of science in horticulture. Diane worked in the entomology lab and Carl in the citrus lab. They purchased a run-down 40-acre citrus block and this began the process of real education! Carl formerly worked in real estate sales, management and appraising while Diane retired, after 25 years, from cabin crew at Air Canada followed by a few years at a Florida landscape nursery and apprenticeship at Green Cay Produce in Boynton Beach. Carl also holds an undergraduate business degree from the University of Texas at Austin.
Farming is a seven-day-a-week proposition because insects, weather and customers never take a holiday. Even with automated irrigation it is necessary to keep a close eye on baby plants which can get stressed with the slightest change in their environment. Over 50 vegetables are grown and each must be harvested at their peak of perfection. Every day Carl and Diane go on foot patrol; they seek new pest infestations (bugs, fungi, bacteria and weeds), water deficits (or abundance), and harvestable produce. Imagine walking on the beach all day—that's what it is like at the farm with its soft sandy soil. Diane calls it the spa. It's a great way to stay in shape but the hours are long, farming goes on regardless of the weather and finally it's a dirty job (but we love doing it for our customers).
Without chemicals there would be no farming. This includes fertilizers, pesticides and water treatments. Kai-Kai Farm is not organic certified although we follow most protocols. Pesticides are OMRI labeled or meet Code of Federal Regulations 40 CFR 180 (exempt from residue limits). Irrigation water hardness treatments include phosphates like green phosphoric acid and SEAQUEST. Upon request our pesticide application records are available. For those who have read this far click January's pesticide application.
All seeds are non-GMO. We grow a tremendous number of crops and when certified organic seeds are not available conventional seeds (without pesticide coatings) are substituted.
Fertility is derived from many resources. To start with the compost is made from the Publix food waste combined with yard trimmings. It is not organic certified due to lack of demand for certification. The compost is tested for pathogens and heavy metals and meets current and future food safety protocols. Pre-plant dry fertilizers (about 60% of total fertility input) are organic certified. When available, liquid fertilizers are organic rule compliant. Unfortunately Florida does not have many large organic growers and we have experienced periods of non-availability of affordable organic products so conventional liquid fertilizer products are substituted as needed. Finally, due to limited choices of reasonably priced organic labeled foliar fertilizer products in Florida, we use some conventional plant foods.
Your farmers eat this produce every day and we are always thinking about minimizing chemicals on our vegetables. Unlike food from the grocery Kai-Kai's chemical policy is transparent. We listen and answer to the best of our ability all customer concerns about what are crops are grown with. We have often considered organic certification but it is expensive, politically agenda driven, and requires additional expensive record keeping for compliance. If a majority of our customers insist that Kai-Kai Farm become organic certified, and they are willing to pay higher prices, we might re-consider it.
As for the Food Safety Modernization Act the FDA now has total authority over all vegetable and fruit farms located in the United States. They can shut down any business suspected of tainted food. So food safety certification is a high priority in our view and Carl is actively engaged in the process with partners like The University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) and Primus Labs.
Kai-Kai follows Best Management Practices and sustainability in its vegetable farming. The soil is amended with locally produced compost at 20-30 tons/acre each planting (see soil photos in Facebook). All vegetables are grown on 3 foot wide 6 foot spacing raised beds most with plastic mulch. Irrigation is by drip. IFAS fertilizer recommendations are respected and followed. Double cropping with a legume for example, which is following one crop with another on the same bed and fertilizer, is a great way to mop up leftover nutrients.
Food Safety compliance is a high priority. In response Kai-Kai built in 2012 a produce wash water well which is inspected by Martin County Health.