When you think of tropical Miami, Florida, a farmer may not be the first image that comes to mind, but Jen Karetnick is aiming to change that idea, along with other preconceived notions. She’s both a dynamic writer and a former mango grower from Miami and she’s visiting Pine Meadow Ranch Center for Arts and Agriculture (PMRCAA) this month alongside writer/historian Natasha Varner and visual artist Mychelle Moritz.

Karetnick is known as a food and travel writer, though she publishes work in numerous genres. Just before her visit to the ranch, Karetnick was putting finishing touches on the fourth edition of her guidebook, “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.” Additionally, she has a background in journalism and plans to write a memoir and poetry at the ranch. One thread that pulls her varied work together is invention,  and in the Masterclass on March 26th, she plans to showcase poets who invent new forms, including a form of her own. 

Karetnick’s twentieth book, entitled, “Inheritance with a High Error Rate” (January 2024) won the 2022 Cider Press Review Book Award, and is a poetry collection about the historic, one-acre mango grove where she recently lived. “I don’t really look like it but I was pretty much a mango farmer for 20 years,” Karetnick says. Her family sold the property just before the COVID pandemic. 

While at PMRCAA, she plans to delve into a memoir based in the groves. “…May through October I harvested mangoes, and processed them, and these trees were in the prime of their lives. We got thousands and thousands of mangoes,” she says. It was demanding work. Fallen mangos couldn’t be left on the ground or they’d quickly rot in the tropical heat and the suburban neighbors would notice the smells coming from the grove floor. On top of that, Karetnick had a full plate, married with a family–a few members of whom, including herself, have chronic invisible illnesses–and several writing jobs. “At some point I was like, ‘Well, I’d really like to write a poem right now but I have to go out and get [the mangos]’,” Karetnick recalls.

Her family lived in the original mango pickers cottage on the property, which has a storied past, on land originally settled by the Tequesta people and later the Miccosukee. It then became the homestead of the first Miami postmaster. “I really loved that house, but we just couldn’t do it anymore,” Karetnick says. The story of the original land keepers, their migration or expulsion from the land, and her family’s wellness journey will be part of the memoir. She hopes to inspire others who are struggling with chronic illness. “There is a way to find joy,” she says. “And there’s also a way to write about it without sounding whiny.”

Another project she will tend while at PMRCAA is a bio verse, a book of poetry about the life of Julia Tuttle, who founded Miami. “She moved into this wilderness and she envisioned a city here, and she made that happen. So it’s poems about her and her life, but based on her real papers.”

Why did Karetnick decide to come to a residency in Oregon to work on stories deeply rooted in Florida? “This one particularly appealed to me because it’s a working ranch. And even though I can’t harvest mangoes anymore, I realized how much I missed it.” She says the stimulation of a farm, and the idea that the ranch is a working operation and yet she does not have to carry any responsibility for the agricultural side is appealing. On this ranch, she can focus on harvesting stories and poems.

You can hear more from Jen Karetnick and her writing at two upcoming events:

Artist Bio:

Jen Karetnick (She/Her) – Miami, FL

The winner of the 2022 Cider Press Review Book Award for Inheritance with a High Error Rate (January 2024), Jen Karetnick is the author of 20 additional books. Her work has won the Tiferet Writing Contest for Poetry, Hart Crane Memorial Prize, and Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize, among other honors. She is co-founder/co-curator of the not-for-profit organization, SWWIM (Supporting Women Writers in Miami).

 

Published On: March 14th, 2024 / Categories: Pine Meadow Ranch, Pine Meadow Ranch Programs /