August 3, 2017
Many in Florida’s nursery and landscape industry define their careers, and some even their lives, by before and after Hurricane Andrew.
August 23, 1992 is not a date easily forgotten for many. Nursery after nursery-- block after block. Just devastation. The reported 160 mph winds tangled greenhouse structures, scattered shadehouses and redefined South Florida’s nursery industry.
When all was said and done, the National Hurricane Center and NOAA’s official tally reported the figure of $25.3 billion in damage in Florida. Ground Zero: Cutler Ridge, Florida City and Homestead.
In 1992, records showed 842 nursery operations were in Dade County and most of these were located in or near Homestead.
Mainstream media reported officials saying “Homestead Air Force Base no longer exists.” The same was true for MiamiDade’s nursery industry. At least for most of it. People were numb and dazed. And no one really knew where to begin.
Many nurseries were literally blown off the map. Losses accounted for an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the state’s tropical foliage production and, to add insult to injury, very few nurseries had crop insurance. And of those who did, most had minimal coverage. When acres were tabulated, there were 7,200 nursery acres flattened or nearly flattened.
In a measure of solidarity, almost immediately, and true to the salt-of-the earth character of nursery folks, FNGLA (then FNGA) and the Florida Foliage Association joined forces to establish an emergency relief program. Many in the nursery industry in unaffected areas of the state dropped everything to coordinate, gather and deliver semi-trucks loaded with food, water and life essentials to their South Florida counterparts. Costa Farms’ then new loading dock became “relief central.”
And once the human needs were satisfied, the industry’s character shone brightly as truckloads of shadecloth, pots -- even chainsaws -- and many of the essentials needed to rebuild nursery structures and get people back in business were sent in droves. This is the still the very nature of Florida’s nursery and landscape industry.
As we remember the impact 25 years later, we acknowledge its devastation and remain in awe of the power of Mother Nature. Yet, 25 years also brings a certain level of perspective from which we can move forward.
Andrew was the most destructive hurricane ever to hit Florida and the costliest in the U.S. until Hurricane Katrina nearly drowned New Orleans.
Yet, we use much more than dollars to measure Andrew’s impact: We tally the struggle -- and the faces of those who fought their way back into business in the industry they loved. Industry peers, and even competitors, became family.
For many, the memories of Hurricane Andrew are still clear as day. For the South Florida nursery community, Hurricane Andrew is one storm which will never be forgotten.