In the 70’s Ray Chasser, with the financial help of a friend, bought the house we entered through. Ray was in his 20’s. His father stayed in the house while he lived out of the back yard. The neighborhood had never been the pretty side of town. He decided on this location because of the giant native Gumbo Limbo tree. It filled the backyard and pierced the square city sky. Overtime Ray acquired all the properties on the block, enclosing each with the farm.
It was Ray’s birthday the night we arrived. His present to himself was a skydiving trip. We went to bed to the sounds of a mellow party below us, pigs occasionally grunting and, right before sleep, gunshots in the distance. I woke up before the sun to trains and turkey gobbles.
Ray sports a bandana, which holds back white curly hair. “Have you heard about our new Canoe Outpost?” Ray asked over breakfast. I hadn’t. “The canoes are free for the public! The only stipulation is that they have to bring back garbage to return the canoe!” he exclaimed with a white bearded smile.
One of the ways Ray afforded more property was from a successful firewood business. People had invasive hardwood trees on their properties they wanted cut down. Most arborists were charging a premium because they’d have to find a place to dump the wood. Ray resold the wood to over 60 high-end restaurants because of how hot it kept wood fired ovens. He got out of the firewood business before trains from Georgia started bringing in cheap pine.
“Cla-bam!” The metal roof above our head sounds like it was hit with a small meteor. “That’s a tropical almond fruit. I was hit in the shoulder by one once. I was stunned for quite a while,” Ray admitted.
The amount of work that went into this Garden of Eden-meets-Noah’s Ark is mind-boggling. Wooden decks, swings, fences, a stone trough that catches grey water from the outdoor sink, a giant bee mural, a compost toilet are all one of kind objects either inspired or designed and built by Ray.
I spoke with another visitor named Greg while we were looking at the animals. “I am thinking about staying here to get grounded. I have an apartment in a condo that is typical Florida: a lawn, drive everywhere, buy stuff. Here I could unwind,” said Greg who was waiting to see a rental unit. Later two employees from Burger King stopped by on their lunch break. It is free for visitors to walk around the farm.
“We had emus on the highway once. Plenty of times people have complained about noise or smell. But the city has been very kind to us. In response to complaints, the city tells people we are grandfathered in!” Ray relates proudly. The peoples’ appreciation of Earth N Us farm is most evident on Sunday afternoons. No longer do Ray, his staff and friends have the time alone to play volleyball. Crowds of families gather to tour the farm.