Carl Frost and Diane Cordeau, married in 1988, have traveled a long way together. Their first major journey was an international sailing adventure where they discovered what their life's work would be.
“We would stop in the Solomon Islands and the chiefs would greet us when we came ashore asking if we would like to go for kai kais, meaning gathering food,” Cordeau said. “We watched them grow vegetables in a very primitive way on coral. They were successful, and we thought, ‘We can do that.' One thing led to another, and we decided that our future would be in farming. And now, every time there is some drama on the farm, we think about them,”
Now Carl & Diane 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).
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.
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. Cover crops in rotation improve tilth, add N-P-K, and provide microorganism habitat; then prior to cash crop planting we add non-biosolids compost made from the Publix food waste + yard trimmings. The compost is tested for pathogens and heavy metals and meets current and future food safety protocols. Pre-plant dry fertilizers based on poultry litter and other organic ingredients complete the pre-plant fertility. We now brew our worm castings tea and inject that 3x each week. While its exact mechanisms are still mostly vague (due to lack of scientific research) we do know that tea adds valuable microorganisms to the soil and assists plant uptake of nutrients.
Your farmers eat this produce every day and we are always thinking about minimizing chemicals on our vegetables. Without chemicals there would be no farming. This includes fertilizers, pesticides and water treatments. 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.
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. In response Kai-Kai built in 2012 a produce wash water well which is inspected by Martin County Health. 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.