Miami: A farm where Woodstock meets Crate and Barrel

It’s an urban oasis that very easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there.

And who would?

This cracked gem in a tarnished setting in Miami is overshadowed by glittery neighborhoods like South Beach, Coconut Grove and Aventura. Where everyone wants to be.

As opposed to this other place — Little Haiti — quaintly described by the Miami tourist folks as “an authentic and not particularly touristy evolving Miami ethnic neighborhood.”

That’s code for a neighborhood that’s trying to get on its feet, but is hampered by few funds and lots of crime. A place you don’t want to go to at night, and is plenty dicy during the day, too.

Overrun by police choppers and sirens and home to a skeleton of a building eerily reminiscent of the one in Venezuela used to imprison Homeland’s fictional Nicholas Brody.

ray

Enter Ray Chasser, a Miami native once in the furniture business. He got into farming and later, veganism and rescuing animals. He felt it was his calling and decided to start a sanctuary for critters and grow his own food.

His quest led him to Little Haiti — the only place he frankly says he could afford to buy that amount of property. He wanted to raise his four children there, but worried about safety. So he simply bought up all the drug houses around them.

better animals

His creation — Earth N Us Farm is roughly three acres now.

goat

He and wife Leslie are parents to lots of kids … and other protected creatures.

earth n us farm

visitors

They open their farm to the community every day to educate area children and anyone else curious about their way of life.

treehouse

They rent out a treehouse and a couple cottages — mostly built and rehabbed by Ray. The place actually is popular with tourists — the kind who want to get away from other tourists.

I was curious and a touch terrified. Ray and Leslie don’t sugarcoat anything — they’re upfront about the fact that the surrounding area ain’t great, and the experience might not be for everyone.

But the place is something of a local institution. Ray says, “The city’s accepted us and it’s been grandfathered in.” It’s gotten lots of press, including from National Geographic.

I was advised I could park my car on the street outside the farm and it would be fine as long as I didn’t leave anything enticing in view. Leslie would escort me in, and once there, all would be well.

So there I am at the rental car place. My flight was delayed and it was getting heart-thumping late. For once, I would have been happy with a nondescript box on wheels otherwise known as an economy car, so no one would mess with it. So what do they trot out instead? A brand-new Mini Cooper convertible of all things …

The Cooper was cute. Always lusted after them. But the encounter verified what I always thought to be true — it was just a toy car with lots of gadgets. I’m putt-putting along the obstacle course that’s I-95 in South Florida, knuckles in mouth, literally sweating trying to safely navigate to the farm in the dark.

My anxiety dissipated with Leslie waiting for me at the farm gate. I felt cozy and safe inside. (All the windows I saw had bars, and there are locks on the doors.)

For the most part. This morning I heard talk about some guy who died after a shooting at the “bad 7-Eleven.” Presumably nearby.  Having been forewarned, I wasn’t shocked.

Bottom line: I love it here. Much more than the froufrou parts of Miami I encountered during some business today with the bling, the comb-overs, and the schmaltzy piano player at the Jewish deli during the Early Bird dinner. (Since when do they have live entertainment — and I use that term loosely — at Jewish delis?)

lunch

I much preferred my Caribbean chicken that I got at the bodega around the corner from the farm.

That, and the parrots fussing outside my door, are just some of the neighborhood attributes.

treehouse1

treehouse2

The treehouse was already booked, but I got to take a quick peek — and try out the bed with the mosquito net — a useful thing in Florida, even in winter.

cabin

Here’s my cabin — sort of  Woodstock meets Crate and Barrel. It’s got a pretty tiled shower you’d find anywhere.

But there are private outdoor showers too, if you’re so inclined. With wood floors I’m told are cleaned every week with nontoxic vinegar and hydrogen peroxide.

Hmmm. I did that in the Maldives, but the setup wasn’t as crude. How much worse can this be than my gym, where I never use the showers, I rationalize.

shower I debate while I eat fresh coconut for breakfast. Decide to use the modern shower in my cabin, simply because I’m pressed for time to get to the airport on this ridiculously short trip. The shower is immaculate, and the water feels great on my mosquito bites.

I also need to say farewell to my new BFFs:

parrot

A cheeky parrot who kept giving me wolf whistles while I was trying to work.

emu and me

An emu and friends.

emupigPigs rescued from a Miami zoo who Ray says “would have been fed to pythons.”

more pigs

 I’m told none of the animals are ever for consumption. They’re cherished pets and “they’ve bonded with each other,” Leslie says.

veggies

I also had fresh breakfast eggs from the chickens And there are plenty of veggies …

bees1

… and honey to go around. Sweet.

 

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