Latitude: 25.5356 Longitude: -80.4942
Driving southwest from downtown Miami on the highway the Florida Keys, you can take a short detour and visit the Fruit and Spice Park.
As a one-time fruit grower I found a reference to this place in the Lonely Planet guide to Florida. It is administered by the Miami Park & Recreation department and is situated in a heavily agricultural area known as Redland. This area is a mix of fruit and vegetable farms and numerous nurseries selling palms and other sub-tropical trees to the public and urban gardening outlets. From the signs on farm property and by reading "Redland Country News" the urbanization pressure from Miami has caused a split in this area over the issue of incorporation.
The park store sells books, preserves, field guides, and fruit drinks. Marie, an employee born in Jamaica, offered tastes of fruits, including some she knew from her childhood. These had popular names like lipstick fruit, egg fruit, and chocolate pudding fruit, yet she also knew the scientific names for most of the others. Entrance to the park including an optional free tour is $5.00. Marie drove a small open train with a half a dozen visitors and frequently stopped to walk into the groves and point out certain features and stories about their use. Visitors can collect fallen fruit to sample but not from the trees. A fenced off section has poisonous fruits and plants. Because the fruits bear at different times there were no ripe mangoes in February, but in June there is a workshop where you "sample fruits until the juice drips from your elbows." All throughout the year there are low cost agricultural workshops at the center, and the director also leads a tour to southwest Asia in August.
Hurricane Andrew ripped through this area in 1992, and felled a number of trees including some of the baobob, the strange west African tree that looks like it has been planted with the roots in the sky. A crane was needed to replant some of the trees. Construction is underway for a new greenhouse for delicate tropical fruits like the langsat, durian, champedek, litsea, nutmeg and cloves.
After visiting this place I realized that most of us who usually eat just a "banana," an "apple," a "mango" or an "orange" are as limited in our experience as someone who only listens to a handful of songs or one type of music. Most of these fruits will not be sold in your stores, so it makes this center a very special place indeed.