Keeping a Century-old Citrus Business Ripe
This all used to be citrus groves, as far as the eyes could see. Brandon Regional Hospital: a former citrus grove. The majority of downtown Brandon: former citrus groves. That subdivision you live in: probably a former citrus grove. At least that’s what Bob McLean will tell you. And he knows a thing or two about his liquid sunshine.
For more than 100 years, his family has grown and sold everything from oranges, grapefruits and lemons to tangerines, tangelos and clementines right here in the Brandon area. McLean and his fellow farmers off State Road 60 saw thousands of groves churn out more citrus than anyone in the state, before the road expanded. Now his Golden Valley Groves, which once boasted 500 acres, has seen its fruitful years squeezed dry from the development boom.
“Those of us who were in the business saw it coming, really,” he said.
Many of these farmers have cashed in on Brandon’s growth, says Ron English, current operator of Golden Valley Groves and McLean’s son-in-law. And anyone who didn’t probably got hit by citrus canker, a disease that causes lesions on the tree’s leaves and fruit.
“At one point in time, people were being offered $25,000 an acre but now, people are getting offered $75 to 80,000 an acre,” he said. “You could never make that in citrus.”
But that hasn’t stopped them from keeping alive one of the last citrus farms in the county.
McLean, 72, spent his early years learning the business of his great grandfather. That was back when SR 60 was just a sandy road known for trapping heavy vehicles. He recalls being asked to tow someone out of the mud after they tried to travel the wet road.
His 50 years in the citrus business were certainly trying. A combination of the citrus disease tristeza and unbearably cold weather quickly deteriorated his groves, which once stretched all across Valrico, Bloomingdale and Pinecrest. His land has since been turned into single-family residences, but McLean doesn’t necessarily pine for those long hours anymore.
“I miss that we used to be busy,” he said laughing, “but I don’t miss the volume.”
Many farmers, like McLean, have sold their land for huge profits for fear of disease and the loss of a good opportunity.
Nowadays, he handles the financial side of the business while English, 49, does the farming. The once massive groves have been reduced to about 150 acres. The subdivision Valrico Heights has sprouted up just next door, where his trees once stood.
Sure, business has been reduced significantly. But the family still runs on the good ol’ honor system. Each year, right around Thanksgiving, the fruit turns that perfect shade of orange, yellow and green.
The SR 60 boom may have pushed others out, but McLean and Sons are still in the office right over the railroad tracks a few blocks off Valrico Road. Just ring the bell for service. And if you come during off hours, just leave some money in the honor box.
Holy Crop of Citrus!
We call ourselves the “Sunshine State” but Florida is a huge producer of the nation’s citrus supply, making us more the citrus state than anything.
Polk County is the largest producer of citrus in the state, churning out more than the entire state of California.
Production of Florida citrus from 2007-08 was 203.8 million boxes, a 26 percent increase from the previous season.
Golden Valley Groves produces oranges that are used to make Minute Maid OJ.
Hillsborough County produced only two percent of the state’s citrus in 2008.
Hillsborough County lost more than 12,000 acres of citrus groves from 2002 to 2008.
The Temple Orange is reportedly named after Temple Terrace, where the largest orange grove in the world stood in 1922.
Some of this information was provided by the USDA.
I’m guessing the first one if a tangelo and the peeled one a tangerine.
The Temple Orange is reportedly named after Temple Terrace, where the largest orange grove in the world stood in 1922. However, the Winter Park Public Library claims the Temple Orange as theirs. They say resident Louis Hakes developed it before them. It is believed to have come from Jamaica in the 1800s.
Production of Florida citrus from 2007-08 was 203.8 million boxes, a 26 percent increase from the previous season. But that amount wasn’t kind to tangelo farmers who saw the price of the hybrid fruit, which is a mix between grapefruit and mandarin orange, decrease 69 percent per box.
Here’s a trivia question: What came first, the pummelo or the grapefruit? Believe it or not, horticulturalists at Purdue University say the grapefruit is an accidental hybrid fruit that comes from the enormous pummelo and the orange. For you morning grapefruit-munchers, there are less than 100 calories in one grapefruit. Sans sugar that is.
Tangerine oranges are also know as mandarins and are distinguishable by their generally oblate stature. Florida grows honey tangerines, as seen in this photo, early tangerines, which are also referred to as Fallglo and Sunburst tangerines, and Robinson and Dancy tangerines.