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Palmer Farms Experimental Station

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann A. Shank, former County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Palmer Farms Experimental Station photo

"Are you looking for a farm? Then why not seek a farm where there is a chance to live pleasantly all year and at the same time where the opportunity to profit on your labors is above the average? Why farm where one crop means loss for the entire year, when you can produce at least two or three crops a year at Palmer Farms?"

This was the opening paragraph in the publication "Fertile Acres of Palmer Farms." The Palmers, since their arrival in 1910, were constantly exploring new business ventures throughout Sarasota County. Bertha Palmer envisioned an experimental farm being developed in the late 1910s but died before it became a reality. After her death, her sons, Honore and Potter Jr., became trustees of her estate and began to develop the farm idea.

In 1923, Honore and Potter Palmer were instrumental in the formation of the Sarasota-Fruitville drainage district near the community of Fruitville. The district provided more than 8,000 acres available for cultivation. New "tillable land" was formed by removing water from the giant, historic slough and dredging a straight drainage canal through the snaking bed of Phillippi Creek, draining about 26,000 acres. In its entirety, the project encompassed more than 40 square miles and included a network of 50 linear miles of canals. The drained area included 2,000 acres of rich muckland, of which 1,400 acres was used in the planting of celery. The estimated cost for this massive project was $750,000. Since Honore and Potter Palmer were heavily involved in the formation of the district, the land became known as the Palmer Farms.

Drainage of Palmer Farms started in1924, and it was producing by spring of 1927. The farm had to overcome several problems before production began. One was the handling of the muck in the area. Roads had to be built across the muck, and this was done by mules and wheeler scoops. Also, it was discovered that the muck in the Fruitville district was acid muck. To remedy this, lime and ground limestone were added to the soil. The farms had tractors but extra wheels were added to each side of the tractors so they would not sink in the soft muck.

After the acreage was drained, the Palmers began selling tracts of the land to private individuals. These people became members of the Palmer Farms Growers Association, a co-operative organization set up to develop and market the produce. As part of the incentive to purchase a taract of land, the Palmers set up the experimental farm station. This station, 4 ½ miles east of Sarasota off Fruitville Road, provided service to the farmers with information and tests on soil fertility, seed, average yields, fertilizers, irrigation and drainage.

Ed Ayers, recalling the development of the farms in the publication "A History of Agricultural Sarasota County, Florida," was hired by the Palmer Farms in 1926 to set up the experimental farms. The Palmers wanted to know what crops could best be grown in the muck. A large demonstration farm was established, one part average muck and the other part sandy loam. On these tracts almost every crop known at the time was tried out. Celery was finally settled on as the main crop best suited to the area, both from an horticultural point of view and an economical point of view.

The first shipment of produce, which consisted of three train cars of tomatoes, and one of potatoes, was made on May 3, 1927. The cooperative, first organized in organized in 1927, was managed by the Palmer Family until 1947, when the individual farm owners took over.

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