MIAMI — A Redland resident issues a dire warning about Miami-Dade Commissioner Kionn McGee’s efforts to loosen rules for farmers.
“You may end up paying to watch Biscayne Bay completely die as a result of this,” said Dr. Martin Motes, who owns and operates Motes Orchids in Redland.
Joe Gorchow of CBS News Miami looked into McGee’s proposal by talking to those for and against it.
“I think the climate here in Redland is so special,” Motes said. “It looks like a tropical mountain.”
For decades, Motes ran his farm in Redland.
“Grow orchids here that I could never grow in Miami but would die in Miami,” Moates said.
He worries about the future of agriculture while serving on the county council of agriculture.
“We were surprised because we had no idea,” Motes said, referring to McGee’s recent drive to amend county bylaws.
“It’s a matter of fairness and equality,” McGee told By Brothers supporters in Redland on Tuesday. “Regulation by local authorities has stifled the agricultural industry in our South Dade for too long.
McGee has not yet responded to our four requests to discuss this.
District 8 Commissioner Daniel Cohen Higgins is concerned about a proposal to repeal a 2021 district ordinance limiting 18-wheeler parking in Redland to two per five acres.
“We’re going to deregulate to make sure that AG’s use of these lands is more commercially profitable,” Higgins said. “Fat, oil and runoff from unlimited trucks on unpaved farmland that inevitably seeps into our groundwater and eventually into Biscayne Bay.”
Motes’ son showed us photographs, essentially illustrating Higgins’ concerns, from a nearby house weeks after the ruling went into effect in July 2021.
“Absolutely unpaved,” said Bartholomew Motes, pointing to his phone showing drone photos. “And then they started loading trucks in there, changing tires, changing oil.”
“Spills of all kinds can contaminate the water supply,” the older Motes said. “You can end up drinking this water. You may end up eating the fish that swam in it.”
On Friday morning, County Director of Regulatory and Economic Resources Lourdes Gomez asked questions about McGee’s proposal to the Biscayne Bay Watershed Management Advisory Board. She explained the problem of truck parking before the law changed in 2021 to restrict it.
“We found that cars were used for more than just supporting agricultural work,” Gomez said. “It turned into a truck parking operation. The storage operation is like a logistics business that you can find anywhere.”
No limit: “Assuming you can fit 30-40 cars per acre, which is what we’re seeing, it could potentially be 60, 80, 100 cars easily,” Gomez added.
Another component of McGee’s proposed change to the law would exempt certain services in an agricultural area from the requirement to obtain a certificate of use.
“We’re trying to create jobs,” said Daniela Guzman, who helps run the family business in Redland. “Get more customers to the area.”
Guzman runs the By Brothers family farm. In front of the farmlands, we see sights that connect the public with what they are doing.
“It’s amazing that they come here to explore,” Guzman shared. “Agritourism is what allows us farmers to be creative and innovate.”
For some of these farms, it’s a matter of survival. She believes the change will help struggling farmers through the development of agritourism in Miami-Dade.
“I ask, you know, permission to do, do more, do more events for festivals like pumpkin patch festivals,” Guzman said.
Joe Gorchow of CBS News Miami asked Higgins, “Is there agritourism in Dade at the moment?”
“Yes, the agritourism business is doing very, very well,” Higgins said.
“Regulations are there to promote our agricultural industry, keep our residents safe and protect their quality of life,” Higgins added.
“Here, no one is against agritourism,” Motes stressed. “The problem is that they are used as a mask for events.”
McGee’s proposal is far from the finish line. It still needs to pass a committee hearing in September before it reaches the final vote.