The Edison & Ford Winter Estates Citrus Project will promote the value of the Florida citrus industry.
By Jim Gravley
The citrus industry has endured many setbacks this year and needs an across-the-board evaluation. As a grower first, I devote my extra time to helping assist the industry with current issues affecting production, research and the marketing of our product. Many Florida growers, including myself, understand we need to have a plan to educate the public on the benefits of pure Florida orange juice. This includes the dissemination of information to explain the proven health benefits from consumption of pure Florida orange juice and the positive impact the industry has on the state’s economy.
CFS Roofing Services, an associate member of the Gulf Citrus Growers Association, approached me on an idea to collaborate with the Edison & Ford Winter Estates to re-establish a working orange grove of approximately 40 trees on its Fort Myers property. The original grove was planted on the Southeast section of the estate and was pushed out in the early 90s due to freezes and citrus canker. The opportunity to re-establish a new grove in this historic site opens many doors to bring our industry back into consumers’ daily life in a positive light.
Recognizing the challenges and changes facing the citrus industry and the difficulty in communicating them, a partnership between the citrus community and the estates was formed. Several citrus industry players have committed time and funds needed to make this endeavor possible. The roles of the main partners are as follows:
Old Florida Citrus (OFC) is responsible for grove design and the varieties to be planted. OFC has designed and will install an irrigation system to ensure the efficacy of injection programs, including the ability to combat freeze events. The different varieties selected will allow citrus to be available at the estate from October through May, utilizing early-, mid- and late-producing scions. OFC will act as a liaison between all entities involved to ensure this project is and will continue to thrive and educate the public on the positive aspects of local agriculture. This will help local growers as well by providing them with a constant marketing project in their backyard.
CFS Roofing Services Director of Marketing Tammy Hall is co-chairing this effort. She has the role of liaison between the project partners and the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. As such, she is responsible for communicating scope of work, coordination of scheduling and ongoing opportunities to expand partnerships. Hall will continue to work with the estates’ communications team in the areas of marketing and public relations in cooperation with the Florida Department of Citrus, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau and the Lee County Port Authority.
Southern Gardens Citrus President and Florida Citrus Commissioner Dan Casper is playing a major role in the development and implementation of the citrus project. Southern Gardens has provided quality rootstocks and scions needed to create this one-of kind exhibit. The company has also contributed time, money and manpower toward the success of this special project.
Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) will play a major role in the public relations and collaboration of speakers and activities for the grove’s grand opening, expected in March 2019. FDOC’s input for the grove tour script and guided tour information will emphasize the positive impact the citrus industry has on every Floridian.
University of Florida (UF) will provide ongoing support for education and tree care. Kelly Morgan, director of the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC), will be leading this effort. Together, UF and Old Florida Citrus will implement educational programs throughout the year on site at the estate, in addition to making current SWFREC programs available to a much larger audience.
The citrus project will provide a new experience for the estates’ approximately 300,000 annual visitors. This attraction will foster awareness of Southwest Florida’s historical and current agricultural impact on the region and statewide. The goal is to make connections between residents and visitors to encourage engagement, curiosity and the exchange of ideas with regards to the citrus industry. We want the new grove to facilitate communication of facts to gain community support and understanding of the role that citrus and agriculture play in Florida’s economy. The project also opens the door for additional market opportunities in the area of agricultural tourism.
Another objective of the citrus project is to educate the children who attend the successful homeschool program that is already in place at the estates. The project will provide the students with an opportunity to learn about our great industry and the production of citrus.
The grove is the first phase of improvements currently being made at the estates. Additional renovations will include revamping the back porch to create a more comfortable seating and dining area overlooking the Caloosahatchee River, as well as placing an entirely new covered seating area in the front of the cottage that can also be utilized as an open classroom.
There will be interior improvements as well, including a beverage station that will include both fresh and packaged orange juice, snack foods made from citrus, and a host of citrus-themed gifts for purchase. The goal is to have these improvements completed by late February to allow for a grand opening of the grove in March 2019.
Jim Gravley is grove manager and principal at Old Florida Citrus in Fort Myers, Florida.
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