It was an unseasonably hot and humid winter day in 2009 when Chelsea Marando dug up the last pennies and dimes she could find buried within her cousin's pickup truck. She used those 69 cents to buy a poster board on which she wrote "Farmer's Market" with a black arrow pointing the way. Sweat dripped down her face as she stood on Andrews Avenue with her 2-year-old son between her legs and the sign held high.
The Marandos sold out of everything that day.
A few weeks later, Florida Power & Light came to shut off the power. She and her husband, Fred, missed the last payment on their one-acre field. The lights nearly went dark, and so did their dream of keeping the 6-month-old city-based farm and market in Fort Lauderdale alive.
Chelsea gave the FPL representative $20 and, as she sobbed, said, "This is all I have. If you turn off the power, we go out of business. Give me another weekend." Instead of cutting the power, he simply turned around and walked away. "This community is what kept us alive," she says.
Seven years later, Marando Farms' lights are still on, and if you ask Chelsea, they're brighter than ever.
Now, the Marandos are gearing up to open a second location, in the former Batten's Farmer's Market and Davie Agri-Tourism Center, where the two will fill ten acres of land with crops, animals, and even a farm-to-table restaurant with Broward's most iconic barbecue joint, the Georgia Pig.
"I'm putting every penny I have into this," Chelsea says. "And then some. I want this to be a destination. Come for fishing, come grab produce, come and have lunch or a birthday party or a wedding. Come and pick your own chicken eggs. Just come and experience Marando."
Chelsea and Fred, who grew up on family farms in New York and Indiana, respectively, never thought they'd open their own. They went to college to, as Chelsea puts it, avoid working hard in the fields. "That's the whole point," she says.
The two had lucrative careers in construction before the market tanked in 2008, leaving them without a home, a car, or their boat.
"We devoted so many years of our lives creating other people's wealth," she says. "When the bottom fell out, so did we. We couldn't find a job in construction to save our lives."
Chelsea enrolled at Florida Atlantic University to pursue a master's degree in history with the hopes of starting a second career as a teacher. But she quickly found herself drawn to the agricultural department.
"I started with a master's gardening course," she says. "Then it grew from there. I was constantly in the botany department, and I met so many cool people, which just really spurred me on."
As Chelsea and Fred struggled with a total lack of income, she thought, Let's just start a farm.
"I had met all these great farmers," she says. "And October was harvest time, so I thought, 'Hey, this might actually work.'"
Marando Farms opened its gates in October 2009, but their battle to survive was just beginning. The couple rented the one-acre property from a 102-year-old man who, Chelsea says, "really took a chance on us."
He gave Chelsea and Fred 30 days to clean the property and come up with the first month's rent.
"We had like no credit," she says. "No jobs. Nobody was going to
She says it took three years of struggle to reach a place of comfort and security.
"It was heart-wrenching at times," she says. "But so many people supported us."
One of the Marandos' biggest supporters is the Town of Davie's Mayor Judy Paul, who helped the couple acquire their soon-to-be-second farm.
"When I first visited her location in Fort Lauderdale, I was totally impressed with what she had done and accomplished on such a small piece of property," says Paul. "When she showed an interest in this new property, I couldn't have been more thrilled. I can just envision what she did on a small scale on a giant scale and how important it will be for the east side of Davie, which we're trying to keep agricultural as much as possible."
In 2011, the Marandos' first bid for the Batten's farmland was denied. Chelsea didn't give up.
"We tried like heck, but all we had to back us up was the fact that we were willing to put in hard work," she says. "We didn't know how to write a fancy proposal or grant. When I saw Mayor Judy at a fundraiser a year and a half later, I went up to her and said, 'Please consider my husband and myself for this piece of land if something changes.'"
In February 2016, the Marandos signed a lease for Batten's, renaming it Marando Ranch.
"I've never worked so hard," Chelsea says. "I crossed every t and dotted every i. I was not taking no for an answer."
The Marandos want Marando Ranch to become a destination farm or, as Paul calls it, "agritourism."
"This is a large-scale organization that will complement the small-scale farms we already have in the area," says Paul. "We talk about
From overseeing baby chicks and organic eggs to horseback riding, fishing, picking produce straight from the field, cooking classes, special events, and a market, Chelsea and Fred have their work cut out for them. Their plans to open this fall will include the debut of a new farm-to-fork barbecue concept with Georgia Pig.
"We're going to take advantage of all the fresh produce out there," says Luke Moorman, owner of Georgia Pig. "And being outside and becoming one with nature. We want to incorporate the whole farm vibe into the restaurant."
Though many details of the Marando and Georgia Pig collaboration are under wraps, Moorman, who has known the Marando family for more than 35 years, plans to bring the Georgia Pig mentality that so many have fallen in love with straight to Marando Ranch.
"We may have some aspects cooked at Georgia Pig and brought out to the farm and vice versa," he says. "It will definitely increase product selections for current customers. Right now, we're trying to figure out the highest-quality service and food we can give out there."
Moorman says the restaurant, which doesn't have an official name yet, will most likely be a fast-casual eatery where people can eat tableside or pick up food to take home. The Marandos and Moorman plan to experiment with meals where diners grab ingredients straight from the farm to incorporate on their plates.
"There's just so many different possibilities and options with the property," Moorman says.
Barbecue aside, Chelsea says visitors should expect strawberry milkshakes — and a lot of them.
"This will be the place to get a strawberry milkshake," she says. "We want to bring the Batten's Farm legacy of strawberry milkshakes here."
For now, the Marandos have a busy road ahead. Chelsea describes Marando Ranch as just an addition to Marando Farms. "The first of many," she says.
"What people say about a baseball field," Paul says. "Build it and they will come. Chelsea is building something on her reputation, and it will create a draw."
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1401 SW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-294-2331, or visit marandofarms.com.
5151 SW 64th Ave., Davie.