Longform

Declarations of Independents

Page 3 of 6

Aside from the one-pound packages Berke sells to restaurants, Turtle Creek Dairy also produces half-pound portions of cheese, cheese spreads (with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, or mixed herbs) and goat-milk fudge to sell at farmers' markets and gourmet shops.

As Berke has progressed over the years from hut dweller to restaurateur to dairy farmer, he's seen Loxahatchee Groves also change considerably but not always to his liking. More than a decade ago, one of his neighbors planned to install a radio tower that would have obscured Berke's view of the sunset. "To me that's a form of pollution," Berke says. "I've always appreciated the fact that, at the end of the day, I can hear birds chirp, see a nice sunset." Luckily other Loxahatchee Groves residents complained about the radio tower, and the idea was scrapped.

Berke believes change is inevitable, though. And he admits that the success of his goat-cheese operation is due to the excessive infusion of people and wealth that has shaped Palm Beach County over the last 30 years. Berke may have once fled civilization, but he's now its beneficiary.

"If worse comes to worst, when D Road gets paved and 145th Street becomes a four-lane," he jokes, "I'll put up a 7Eleven over here and have my kids sell lotto tickets."

Anybody who's lived in Loxahatchee Groves for more than ten years can tell stories about encroachment. But not everybody considers it inevitable. Alongside F Road sits a sign for Le Petite Cheval horse farm. At one point Palm Beach County planned to build a road that would have crossed the property, but owner Joan Krogman and some of her neighbors successfully battled the proposal. And last year residents pressured Lion Country Safari, located a few miles west of Loxahatchee Groves, to scale back plans for a theme park and hotel that would have significantly increased noise and traffic in the area.

But for all the victories chalked up by die-hard preservationists, whose motto is "Love it and leave it alone," development continues to march on. To understand the transformation of the area over the years, you'll have to pay a visit to Ellie Hope.

At the age of 79, Hope is considered the matriarch of Loxahatchee Groves. A dedicated rabble-rouser, she has lived on the same eight-and-a-half-acre plot since 1962. Her house is not hard to find. Just east of C Road, it sits alongside busy Okeechobee Boulevard, the only paved road in the area. When she moved here with her late husband, Bob, in order to "beat hell out of the city," as she puts it, Okeechobee Boulevard did not exist. Middle Road, as it was known back then, was just a dirt path running from A Road to D Road.

Seated in a bamboo chair in her sparsely furnished living room on a weekday morning, Hope can hear the steady stream of cars and trucks roaring down Okeechobee. She's planted oak trees over the years, and slash pines and other trees crowd her property, but nothing can keep the noise out.

Hope is not "house proud." A threadbare lime-green carpet covers the floor, and the pieces of tape on the sliding-glass doors are remnants of a long-forgotten hurricane. A raccoon often shows up at the doors and puts his paws against the glass, hoping that Hope will feed him, as she regularly does. "I'm not sure they get the most rounded diet," she says. "They rely on me instead of foraging."

Time has taken its toll on Hope. She suffers from cerebral palsy and arthritis and usually walks with a cane. But she's feisty and sharp. She continues to write a column for the weekly newspaper The Forum, and her response to questions about whether she likes what's happened to Loxahatchee Groves is simple: "Hell no!"

In 1976 Hope was leader of the "Loxahatchee 11," a group of residents who blocked the construction of a culvert bridge across a canal in the northern section of Loxahatchee Groves. The bridge was to provide access to a planned golf course and housing development. In her book Loxahatchee Groves' Yesteryears, Hope writes that, after word went out that the property owner was building the bridge without approval from the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District, residents gathered at the site. A call was then made to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, which sent an officer to the site. The project was halted.

The next day residents removed the culvert from the canal. Hope and the others were later sued by the landowner for destruction of property, and after a marathon legal battle, they each had to pony up money to the landowner, in Hope's case $15,000. But the Loxahatchee 11 had accomplished their goal: The golfing community never materialized, and the land is now protected from development as part of the Royal Palm Beach Pines Natural Area.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Paul Demko
Contact: Paul Demko