Chris French

In what part of town do you live?
Biscayne Park

How long have you lived in the area?
Almost a year now

Where are you originally from?
Boca Raton

What brought you to Miami?
I moved here from California nine years ago. I had been visiting my parents and met somebody and I wanted to give it a swing. So I moved back to Florida. I felt like my California chapter was done and wanted to work with the land in Florida.

What had you been doing in California?
I was doing water systems for landscapes, specifically rainwater catchment systems and grey water systems for people that were really into their garden and wanted to use smart practices and passive rain harvesting in their yards.

How are you working with the land now here in Florida?
I’m doing a handful of things right now because I scaled back my farm this year. I’m farming part-time, growing salad and produce. I’m also working for several of the edible landscaping companies here in Miami. I’ve been working with Little River Cooperative. And, I’ve also been working a lot with Ready to Grow Gardens who I’ve worked with off and on for pretty much the whole time I’ve lived in Miami.

How did you get into farming?
I really liked the skills that I had acquired from working with Ready to Grow Gardens over the years. And then, I was exposed to Little River and I just got it in my head, that I really wanted to grow stuff under full sun rather than garden, and really put my skills to the test. I’ve always loved working outside and working with nature and feeling like you’re making good changes to the environment. I liked all the fun systems. I’ve always been obsessed with sprinklers and there’s a lot of other fun systems involved in farming. I used to be a mechanical engineer and missed getting to work hands-on with nature. So, it’s a culmination of idealism and a love of working with nature.

Do any examples stand out of how you have used your engineering background in farming?
When you’re learning at the scale I am at, a lot of the ingenious things are only ingenious to you, where you discover some way to use a small tool to your advantage and make things easy. I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve developed a system for how many seed trays I need and the average spacing of my rows. And, figuring out how much arugula I need to plant this week to satisfy the market and how many seeds that’s going to take. I almost always put in a hundred foot row of something. My sprinklers match that spacing as well, so it created a grid and system over the years. And, it really works well with the implements I have on my tractor. That’s not extremely novel, but I think a lot of people on my scale have to figure it out for themselves.

Why did you decide to scale back this year?
A bunch of different things. I didn’t have a written long term lease. We keep getting pushed further North in Miami, not physically, but that’s where we’ve ended up. And, it’s been hard for us to fall in love with homestead. I’m not super young anymore so investing a lot of sweat equity into leased property gets really questionable.

What advice might you offer for people with home gardens?
Unfortunately, most gardens are cursed by too much shade in the winter. They might struggle to grow radishes and nice big heads of lettuce. I am really falling in love with watercress. Even if you don’t have a little bubbling stream, watercress grows quite well in a pretty shady garden. And, I think it’s really delicious. That’s a good plant for people to experiment with.

We love your lettuce. Would you teach us a little bit about growing lettuce?
It loves full sun. These plants grow exponentially fast and a good part of their life is when they’re a seedling. They spend four or five weeks in a tiny tray. That’s an important part, starting with healthy seedlings. Lettuce definitely needs a healthy amount of fertilizer, but at the same time it’s not super picky about the soil. I have beds down here that have a lot of gravel in them, and the lettuce is one of the crops just doesn’t seem to mind the rocks. Or, you can grow it hydroponically. But, I can’t stress the full sun thing enough.

Where can we find French Farm lettuce?
Mandolin BistroLegion Park Market and maybe Pinecrest when I have enough to bring you.

Which local farmers markets do you attend?
I have been going to the Legions Park farmer’s market for the last five years. My produce is being marketed through Little River Cooperative. It’s an easy avenue for me, I really love the market, and I’m in a relationship with one of the owners. It’s nice that the market is now inside the park, although it makes unloading and loading more challenging.

What things have you had from our stand?
Your jack fruit is probably the main thing I’ve had from you guys. I’ve always loved your jack fruit hustle. Also your starfruit and produce you’ve supplied to Little River over the years.

What makes a good farmer’s market?
Farmers. It’s really cool because I think we’re beginning to see more small and diversified farmers showing up at the markets.

How can we get more young people to start farming?
I would really like to see the county put in in an agricultural park. Basically, it’s an idea of land set aside for small farmers to rent and create nutritious food for the local community.

What’s Miami’s best kept secret?
How many readers do you have…? I don’t want to give away my secrets. One that comes to mind is Chapman Field. Right after I dropped that lettuce off with you guys Sunday, we went canoeing. I’m surprised at how many people don’t know about that little canoe run. It’s special. You go a little bit past the dump, there’s a little parking lot there and there’s an accessible canoe launch. Bring some environmentally sensitive bug repellent.

What local restaurants you enjoy?
We enjoy a lot of them. Recently, we went to Balloo. I really love Caribbean food and they’re doing it so cool. It’s real small and they don’t take reservations, but the food is top-notch and exciting. They had big a pickled slab of chayote squash with this delicious sweet and spicy chutney. I’m fascinated by and have always wanted to grow chayote. I like to see it on a menu sort of showcased like that.

Where else are you guys going?
We always make our way out to 27 and Mandolin is always one of our favorites. Boia De is really nice, that’s sort of near us. Then there are a couple Mexican places down in Homestead that are good. They’re almost all in gas stations. 5 Hermanos on 272 and Krome. It’s a food truck at a gas station with a couple of tents.

What’s a worthy splurge?
Going on surf trips. I like to travel to a different country and go surfing. Dry Tortugas is a worthy splurge, but only if you’re going to camp there.

Where’s the most romantic spot in Miami?
Crandon Park

Would you like to share a pitch about French Farms?
I think we grow healthy produce. I take great pains to care for these plants so that they are as nutritious for people as possible. And, that’s something I’d like to have more conversations with people about. I want to learn more about caring for this soil in order to make this food better for us and better for the planet and Miami and Florida and everyone else.

What question would you like to ask us?
Why can’t we hang out more?

What question, advice or a challenge would you like to pose to our community?
A challenge would be to find ways to keep all of your palm fronds and yard waste on your property, rather than sending it to the dump. I feel like its a big little step to combat climate change and we have to be conscientious of what we do with carbon. Let them decompose on your property and turn back into soil and food. I see a bag of leaves on the side of the road and I’m like, oh I wish I had time to start a new compost pile.

We plan to interview Tiffany soon; is there a question we should ask her?
Ask if she’s really sure that she doesn’t want to live in Homestead