Shared from the 2017-05-10 Palm Beach Post eEdition

POST EXCLUSIVE MODEL FARM

Healthy food need led to family farm

Holman’s Harvest seen as a ‘positive example’ for Hispanic farmers.

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Holman’s Harvest’s owners have drawn attention after receiving a USDA grant for a shade house-like structure where they will test how long tomato plants can produce into the hot season.

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Marty Holman, who started Holman’s Harvest with his wife, Liza, in 2008, checks butter lettuce at the Loxahatchee Groves farm, which sells produce and eggs to restaurants. PHOTOS BY RICHARD GRAULICH / THE PALM

Liza and Marty Holman started Holman’s Harvest, a Loxahatchee Groves farm where they grow fruits and vegetables and raise chickens, in 2008. They knew little about farming, but learned by watching podcasts and speaking with experts for guidance.

Now, despite a packed schedule that includes three children under 5, and Marty working full-time as an engineer, the West Palm Beach couple are managing to run the farm as well. But it’s taken nine years to arrive at the point where they are selling the farm’s produce and pasture-raised eggs to local restaurants including Aioli in West Palm Beach, Nature’s Way Cafe in Palm Beach Gardens and Nature’s Corner Cafe in Palm Springs.

Friends and family have been picking up produce such as salad mix, cilantro and eggs on Saturdays.

“We have a good support system,” Marty Holman said recently at the farm, while roosters crowed and chickens ran around in a large fenced area.

Now, though, the family farm has drawn big-time attention. Federal officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted the Holmans money for an important addition, a cover so they can grow certain produce in the summer heat.

Ricardo Alvarez, an outreach specialist with the Southeast Hispanic Farmer Outreach program which helps bridge the gap between local farmers and the USDA, said the Holmans run a model farm.

“They are the positive example of what can be done and how it can be done and the achievement of it,” Alvarez said.

Liza Holman, a physical therapist who is on maternity leave, credited the couple’s parents for a lot of the family’s success.

“It has basically been the blood, sweat and tears of our parents who have sacrificed and helped us a lot. When you want something bad enough, you just do it.”

And, she added, it’s the family’s passion for growing healthful food that is as fresh as it gets that’s the driving factor.

“Once people taste the difference of what the vegetables and eggs are supposed to taste like, it will keep them from buying store-bought again,” Liza Holman said.

About 2.5 of the 15 acres is planted with fruit trees such as banana, mango, avocado and dragon fruit. There are field-grown lettuces and a greenhouse where micro-greens and four kinds of tomatoes are growing. The 90 laying hens produce five to six dozen eggs each day.

Liza considers herself a “farmer by blood,” and her farming roots go back to Cuba. Her grandparents raised tobacco, sugar cane and cattle there. Her parents met in Florida after fleeing Cuba. In the early 1970s, her dad and his two brothers bought 15 acres in Loxahatchee Groves. Liza’s dad, Maximo Corzo, went into the trucking and land-clearing business.

In 2008, after Corzo complained about the high cost of diesel fuel for his trucks, Marty began researching how to produce biodiesel and learned that the fuel can be produced from jatropha trees.

They began growing more than 2 acres of jatropha trees. But after plans for a processing facility that a company wanted to build in the Agricultural Reserve west of Del-ray Beach fell apart, the Holmans decided to move their backyard vegetable gardening efforts to the farm, as a hobby. The jatropha trees have since been removed.

That hobby grew. In July 2013, the Holmans brought Liza’s uncle’s half of the farm and began educating themselves about organic produce, GMOs and eating healthier, Liza Holman said.

At the end of July 2013, their oldest son Quinn, now 4, was hit with an illness and hospitalized for three weeks. He was diagnosed with e.coli, and the Holmans thought it could have been from store-bought spinach in a smoothie.

“We weren’t sure if he was going to make it,” Liza Holman recalled. “Now he is thriving and doing great. That got us more into looking at what we eat and how it is grown.”

While they’re not certified organic, they’re using organic practices, going with organic treatments only as needed. They also grow “habitat strips” of beneficial plants such as moringa between the rows of crops.

Right now they’re seeing just how long into the hot season their tomato plants, grown in the soil, can produce. They’re grown under cover in a structure that looks like a shade house, but is technically called a “high tunnel,” Marty said.

The structure keeps water off the tomatoes and helps prevent blight from taking hold and ruining the crop. It makes the need to treat the plants with chemicals less likely.

“We’re trying to focus on taste,” Marty Holman said, adding that it’s taste and aroma and sells the restaurant owner on the tomatoes.

The Holmans bought the high tunnel with the assistance of a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Palm Beach County Agriculture Extension Service had advised them to contact the agency.

“It’s been an important addition to our farm,” Marty said. “If it weren’t for the NRCS, we wouldn’t have this at all. We would not have gone down this path.”

At a recent Southeast Hispanic Farmer Outreach Program event held at the farm, representatives from the NRCS and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency were on hand to give farmers information about programs available to help them improve quality and increase output.

“These are our partner agencies. We work with them. It is their programs in particular that are beneficial to farmers,” Alvarez said.

The outreach began about 15 months ago, and in Palm Beach County alone, 358 Hispanic farmers have been identified. While farmers of all ethnicities are eligible for the programs, Hispanic farmers are underserved, along with other groups such as farmers who are military veterans. ssalisbury@pbpost.com

Twitter: @ssalisbury

‘It has basically been the blood, sweat and tears of our parents who have sacrificed and helped us a lot. When you want something bad enough, you just do it.’
Liza Holman
Co-owner of Holman’s Harvest

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