Meet the Grower: Murray Bass
Grove Location: Homestead, Florida, just south of Miami
Uncle Matt’s Grower Since: 2009
Crops: 8 Different varieties of avocados
Season: June – January
Murray Bass is an avocado connoisseur. He knows about the 50 different varieties of avocados. He can talk purebred or hybrid — and whether an avocado’s got West Indian, Guatemalan or Mexican “blood” in it. And now that Murray’s gone organic, he’s positioned himself to become a new favorite with guacamole makers looking for a healthy edge in their recipe.
Murray grew up in the Florida Ag industry, following in his father’s footsteps. He received his BS degree in Agriculture from the University of Florida, specializing in Fruit Crops. He worked at the Florida Citrus Groves Corporation as a grove production supervisor in the citrus industry until 1983 when the freeze forced him to look to South Florida for employment.
Murray landed a job in Southwest Florida with Baron-Collier where he was in charge of a young avocado grove of about 1,000 acres. From 1989 to 2007, Murray worked for Brooks Tropicals and became the Director of Agricultural Operations for the Homestead division.
During his tenure at Brooks, Murray purchased his own 20-acre avocado grove. With the encouragement of longtime friend and business associate, Benny McLean (also Uncle Matt’s dad), Murray began the three-year process of transitioning his avocado grove from conventional to organic.
Here’s more about Murray:
UM: Why did you decide to transition your avocados to organic three years ago?
Murray: These days to make it in agriculture, you have to separate yourself from the mainstream. I thought by going organic, I could move the product a lot better because organic is separate market. When I was making that decision, I began reading up on organic and the benefits for organic, and one could say that’s when I saw the light. Kind of like reading the Bible for the first time!
UM: Sounds like there was more than one transition going on — both in your grove and in your thinking!
Murray: At first, my decision was based more on economics than a health conviction. But after doing some research and reading about being pesticide-free and herbicide-free, I began the transition process and saw my trees really responding. I began to talk with Benny about the high “nutrient density” in organic produce and realized that health-wise, going organic is what I wanted.
UM: In the end, not only did your crops convert to organic, but you did too!
Murray: You could say that! My wife and I are now a part of an organic buying club down here and we’re trying to live the organic lifestyle. I think that it’s a lot healthier for both of us.
UM: How does the organic buying club work?
Murray: A group of individuals got together and began to purchase organic produce in bulk from a few of the large organic suppliers. They’ll have everything from celery, tomatoes and all sorts of other vegetables to fruit. There’s even an organic fish dip we love. Because they buy in bulk, they are able to pass the cost savings onto us. We’re just one of the families that belong to this group. I’m able to go and sell some of my avocados to the group as well, and everybody loves them!
UM: Did you have to overcome any obstacles in transitioning your groves over to organic?
Murray: Mainly it’s not using conventional herbicides to control the weeds. That’s the biggest obstacle and it’s a very big one. What we do is mechanically mow the groves. My mower neck is extended way out in front of where I sit on the tractor and I’m able to get underneath the canopy and take care of the weeds that way.
UM: So, it’s more labor intensive.
Murray: It is more labor intensive when it comes to the mowing aspect of it. Yes.
UM: Is the extra work worth it to you?
Murray: Oh, absolutely. The avocado trees respond incredibly well to the organic scheme. I think that’s the way Mother Nature meant it to be. Take using natural materials for fertilizer, for example. I use horse manure from my wife’s equestrian center and it works great. The bedding around the trees is shaved pine which is used to counteract the high pH in the soil. This in turn helps the tree to uptake even more nutrients from the soil. Even in the area of dealing with pests, while everyone else is out there spraying more and more, I know I’ll be able to deal with pests through beneficial insects and having my trees healthier than the ones in the grove next door.
UM: Are you thinking of growing any other organic crops?
Murray: Absolutely, my plan is to grow blueberries and blackberries in Virginia. We have a farm in Virginia that will be strictly organic. We want to grow the blueberries from the beginning to the end of Virginia’s season. I think that’ll be a perfect fit for Uncle Matt’s because they would come in after the Florida season. And, by the way, blueberries are just an incredible fruit when eaten organically. They’re packed with just about every anti-oxidant known to man.
UM: Finally, what’s been the most satisfying reward of becoming an organic farmer?
Murray: Just being able to supply the general public with an incredible product. As a farmer, when I see my produce in a store I get a sense of satisfaction in knowing I’m making a difference by providing food to the population that’s incredibly healthy. It’s a sense of knowing that what you’re growing is benefiting and being enjoyed by a family down the road from you. I get that from being a grower; I feel like what I’m doing is worthwhile, certainly.