HOMESTEAD, Fla. — August may not be the ideal time to visit Niven Patel’s backyard farm.
It’s the middle of monsoon season here in South Florida, which means that Mr. Patel’s two-acre property — which produces about 15 percent of the produce for his restaurant, Ghee Indian Kitchen, a half-hour north in greater Miami — is besieged by mosquitoes, rain and humidity so intense that you can’t grow tomatoes past April.
But summer does have its payoffs for those who choose to live at the fertile edge of the Everglades. At a recent dinner party at Ranchopatel — Mr. Patel’s gray stone house on Avocado Drive — the chef cut waist-high taro leaves, dug his own white turmeric roots, plucked teardrop Indian eggplants to stuff with crushed peanuts, and filled a wheelbarrow with 200 pounds of mangoes destined for lassis and chutney.
His four towering mango trees — along with three avocado, a sapodilla and 12 lychee trees by the driveway — were actually what drew Mr. Patel to this property four years ago, when he was still the chef de cuisine at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami.
“As soon as I drove in, I saw the lychee trees,” Mr. Patel said, “and it just felt right.”
Mr. Patel, who turns 34 on Wednesday, was wise to trust his instincts. Located in the only part of the contiguous United States with a tropical monsoon climate — like those in India and Southeast Asia — Ranchopatel gave him not just sweet fruit, but a new direction.
Homestead is part of one of Florida’s most diverse agricultural regions. Mr. Patel’s neighbors include ordinary owners of one-story homes with impossibly lush lawns, as well as farmers who send conventional supermarket vegetables north in December; large-scale exotic fruit producers with groves of Thai white guavas or Pakistani mangoes; and small-scale growers with roots across the Asian continent, the Caribbean or South America. Many of those growers cultivate just a few acres, their yards mixed carpets of foreign tree fruits, vegetables and herbs that creep right up to the road.
These crops — hard-to-find tastes of home like Cambodian rice paddy herb, Vietnamese coriander or moringa leaves — quietly make their way up the East Coast and across the Midwest, said Valerie Imbruce, an economic botanist who studied the area for her 2015 book, “From Farm to Canal Street.” There, you’ll mainly find them in niche grocery stores, she said, “tucked away in the refrigerated section next to the bottled drinks.”
Go to an Indian market in New York City, for example, and you are likely to spot green papaya or luffa gourd from Jalaram Produce, which Mahendra Raolji has run in Homestead for 22 years. “He is the biggest Indian farmer in probably the U.S.,” Mr. Patel said, “and he’s 10 minutes away.”
That’s handy for Mr. Patel, who blends local sourcing with his family’s home cooking. Born in Georgia and raised in Florida, Mr. Patel traces his roots to the Indian state of Gujarat, as does his wife, Shivani.
At his four-month-old restaurant — a roomy modern space where jars of ground Ranchopatel chiles serve as both pantry and folk art — Mr. Patel may marinate the tropical game fish called wahoo in fresh turmeric, serving a still-raw slice alongside bhel puri, a mix of puffed rice with green mango and herby chutney. Charred local okra pods are seasoned with black mustard seed and soaked with preserved heirloom tomatoes, which he buys from farmer friends in spring. (The Florida vegetable season is reversed, Mr. Patel explained. Crops that thrive in extraordinarily hot and humid climates, like okra, beans and eggplant, are the only vegetables that grow during the summer; Floridians import fresh tomatoes and everything else from farmers up north.)
Many Miami chefs work with local farmers or seek out special or native ingredients, but with Ghee, Mr. Patel is a game changer for the region. He is the first chef to draw such a sharp line from his cooking to the unique potential of his agricultural landscape, linking his heritage to his literal backyard.
“What he’s cooking and what he’s doing, and in this climate and in this zone, are just like a match made in heaven,” said Michael Schwartz, the executive chef and owner of Michael’s Genuine and a farm-to-table pioneer in Miami.
“For me, it’s inspiring,” Mr. Schwartz said. “He’s certainly got everyone thinking about new possibilities.”
Mr. Patel was still working for Mr. Schwartz when he decided to open Ghee. “I never in my wildest dreams thought I would open up an Indian restaurant,” said Mr. Patel, who has spent a majority of his 13-year career cooking modern American food, much of it farm-to-table.
He first fell for hands-on growing six years ago while working as a chef at a restaurant on Grand Cayman that kept an expansive kitchen garden. After buying his house in Homestead in 2013, Mr. Patel had the land to create his own: He recruited his kitchen staff at Michael’s to help build out 14 32-foot-long raised beds just past the swimming pool.
Friends came to see, and he served them what his family always ate at home: basmati rice with roasted garlic, ghee and chiles; a simple okra curry; the hand-rolled Gujarati flatbread called rotli; a warm yogurt soup flavored with homegrown curry leaf and thickened with grated tomato, cucumber and tender, fresh pigeon peas.
His guests were blown away by the food, and Mr. Patel by their reaction: “I thought, ‘We have to do this; we have to make a place that’s like eating at home.’”
Home, in fact, is where Ghee’s staff came to train, learning the intricacies of the Indian kitchen from Mr. Patel, his wife and her parents, who also live at Ranchopatel. (His father-in-law is a co-farmer and the handyman, his mother-in-law is the restaurant’s second culinary guru, and Ms. Patel works the dining room after spending the day at her full-time job in human resources at a resort.)
“We would cook up a feast,” said Mr. Patel, who eventually started summoning people over to eat it — chefs, brewers, farmers or food producers, some of whom he knew only via Instagram. These free-form dinners became legend, spread by social media posts showing sprouted mung beans or spices being ground by a hand-powered stone mill.
Mr. Patel still lures crowds to Ranchopatel when he can. That backyard dinner with the wheelbarrow full of mangoes, for example, was a feast for about 30 on the family’s one day off that week. The guests included a South Beach chef, a lawyer who runs one of Miami’s best-read food blogs, the owner of an artisan tea company and most of Mr. Patel’s staff, who pitched in to grill whole queen snappers slicked with ginger-chile spice paste and to fill flatbreads with the purple Indian yam called ratalu.
These connections are important to Mr. Patel, whose goal — beyond hiring a farmer to convert the rest of his yard so he can grow more produce for the restaurant by fall — is to foster the deep links between agriculture, food professionals and diners that exist in many other cities.