AVALON FARMS: Full-Blown Recreational Destination For Families
By Space Coast Daily // December 28, 2015
u-pick venue for consumers
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Twenty-five beautiful strawberry plants make for an impressive sight, particularly if grown hydroponically in rows upon rows of 16-plant-high stacks.
Keeping these baby plants happy and thriving at West Melbourne’s Avalon Farms are emergency room physicians Drs. Stephen Miley and Mike McGoohan, who work at Health First Viera and Cape Canaveral Hospitals.
Many doctors like to golf, or hunt or fish. Miley and McGoohan farm.
Last year, their plant-hugging dream-come – true of Avalon Farms opened as a u-pick venue for consumers who craved pristine, organically grown – and extremely delicious—fresh strawberries.
The seedling venture bloomed so quickly that the business partners are now growing Avalon Farms into a full-blown recreational destination for families.
“Last year, we opened for u-pick at a quarter of our current space and we would sell out every day,” said Miley.
By the end of this year, a farm store and café will join the rows of strawberries at Avalon Farms’ three acres along John Rodes Blvd. in West Melbourne.
“The store will sell salads, smoothies and sandwiches,” said McGoohan.
“Most of the menu choices will feature items grown right at the farm.”
McGoohan himself built a pavilion where families can enjoy a day in the country. As chief operating officer with Brevard Physician Associates, McGoohan administers a network of emergency room physicians, radiologists and anesthesiologists, but he makes time to putter around the farm.
With tractor tires donated by Gatto’s, he also created a “tractor play yard” so kids can scramble and play to their hearts’ content. McGoohan’s building credits additionally include the cool chicken coop, where in the next couple of weeks hens will take up residence.
Visitors to Avalon Farms will also be able to pick farm-fresh eggs straight from the source through individually crafted doors that access each nest.
Miley and McGoohan envision family get-togethers, scout trips and even corporate events. “We’re developing a family experience,” said McGoohan.
Another group of residents shortly moving into the pocket farm is the herd of myotonic – or fainting – goats.
They have been dubbed the “New Dogs” because these small, affectionate and amusing creatures are becoming increasingly popular as pets.
When the animals get overexcited, including at dinnertime, their muscles often lock and the creatures collapse in a little faint before getting right back up and going about their daily business as if nothing had happened.
Beyond the strawberries, Avalon Farms will also offer u-pick options on everything from asparagus and lettuce to blueberries and mangoes, again, all hydroponically and organically grown. Any plant that grows in soil can be grown hydroponically, and McGoohan and Miley plan to try growing as many different species as possible.
The plants at Avalon must be the happiest in the plant kingdom, living pampered lives of luxury, each in their individual clover-shaped plant “condo,” the Hydro-Stacker, a vertical gardening system that sets plants far away from the ground and its bugs.
For 20 minutes three times a day, a complex drip system feeds them a nutrient-rich “secret sauce” that includes ocean water.
“These plants are extremely healthy,” said Miley.
Hydroponics relies on a soil-free growing that replaces soil. Miley learned about hydroponics and the Hydro-Stacker at the very source, from industry pioneer Chester Bullock, who lived near Miley on the west coast of Florida. Miley spent many hours at Bullock’s farm to soak in as much information as possible.
With farm land at a premium, hydroponics offers a very attractive alternative that allows farmers to grow as many as 20 plants in just 14 square inches. In suburban areas such as Brevard, they make a day at the farm a reality.
“We go up instead of out,” said Miley.
As development has encroached upon Brevard’s farming roots, places such as Avalon Farms can help children understand where their food originates.
“Some children have no idea where their food comes from,” said Miley. “Some kids think food comes from Publix.”
Miley and McGoohan are tapping into a mushrooming niche market, as consumers grow increasingly sensitive to the health dangers of factory grown produce. The organic food market has experienced tremendous growth in just a few years.
In 2013, it represented more than $35 million in sales, according to the Organic Trade Association in Baltimore.
The strawberry season, which runs December through May, should keep Avalon Farms busy with u-pickers. Each plant is expected to yield about three pounds of fresh berries that will make many a great smoothie or strawberry shortcake.
The flavor of organically grown plants creates immediate converts and their nutritional value is through the roof.
“People can’t believe how good they taste,” said McGoohan, who plans to offer his guests picking tips.
“There is an art to picking. You want to pick the fruit with part of the stem. You never find the stems at the store, but they are very important to keep, because they help the fruit remain fresh longer.”
The Farm will present workshops to provide gardeners guidelines and tips on growing vegetables hydroponically, so they can translate the lessons to their own backyards. Cooking classes and even farm-to-table events are on the possibility list.
“Everyone who sees the farm, gets enthusiastic about it,” said Miley. “I think people are really going to embrace it.”
AVALON FARMS is located at 930 S. Jon Rodes Boulevard in West Melbourne. For more information, call 844-920-9156 or log on to AvalonHydro.net