Georgia Prison Gets Citrus Plot

Tacy CalliesCitrus

Georgia citrus

Project partners came together to formally introduce MitCo Grow. (Photo by Jennifer Parks, The Albany Herald)

By Tacy Callies

With the recent birth of the Georgia Citrus Association (GCA), many small commercial citrus groves are getting started in the state. Georgia’s newest citrus planting, however, is not a commercial grove. It’s a 100-tree installation that was planted this spring at the Mitchell County Correctional Institute. Dubbed MitCo Grow by a 4-H student, the project is the first of its kind in Georgia.

4-H students are one of many groups involved in MitCo Grow. It’s a joint effort involving Mitchell County, University of Georgia (UGA) and members of the agricultural community. Lindy Savelle, president of the Georgia Citrus Association, was actively involved in the team that got the project going, but she credits Clark Harrell, Mitchell County administrator, as the originator of the idea.

“Clark approached me about the project, and from there, we went forward with putting things into action,” says Savelle. “We met with the Mitchell County Correctional Institute Warden, Bill Terry, and once he was on board, things just fell in place. We brought in Jennifer Grogan, Mitchell County Extension agent, to involve 4-Hers in the project, and Alan Collins, Young Farmers and FFA sponsor, to bring in FFA.”

Georgia citrus

Lindy Savelle (center), president of the Georgia Citrus Association, and University of Georgia county Extension agents Jennifer Grogan and Brian Hayes helped plant the final trees at a media day in May.

In addition to representing the GCA on the project, Savelle is also a vendor for MitCo Grow. As a partner of the citrus nursery 1 DOG Ventures LLC, she supplied the trees at wholesale cost for the citrus planting at the prison. “There are 10 each of 10 varieties of trees in the plot,” she explains. Three of the varieties are seedless, patented trees bred by UGA professor Wayne Hanna, who spoke at a media day on May 11 to formally introduce the new citrus planting. The UGA varieties include Sweet Frost (Changsha tangerine), Pink Frost (Bruce grapefruit) and Grand Frost (Ichang lemon). Savelle’s nursery grows the UGA varieties via an exclusive contract with the university.

According to Savelle, UGA varieties have survived colder temperatures (including 0°F in a 1985 freeze) than satsumas. “UGA says the three Frost varieties are more cold-hardy than satsumas,” she says. “Until a recent association meeting in Tifton, everyone was putting in satsumas and only satsumas. The experts came in and said to diversify. Now growers are listening. They are starting to look at other varieties of citrus.”

Additional varieties planted at the prison include:

  • Cara Cara navel
  • Frost Owari satsuma
  • Nules tangerine
  • Murcott mandarin
  • Meyer lemon
  • Kieffer lime
  • Liquid Gold grapefruit

All varieties are on cold hardy, trifoliate rootstock, says Savelle. “Clark asked me to provide a variety of citrus, so I picked from the ones I had and not too much of any one type.”

In addition to Savelle’s nursery, other ag companies providing materials for MitCo Grow are as follows:

  • Bell Irrigation: irrigation components
  • Maxijet: microjet components
  • Graco Fertilizer: fertilizer
  • Labro Irrigation: microjet installation
Georgia citrus

4-H students pitched in with the planting efforts while gaining hands-on citrus experience.

“This is a win-win project,” says Savelle. “It takes very few tax dollars and gives the inmates a new trade to learn (caring for the citrus trees) while incarcerated. It will provide food for them, and in five years when the fruit is coming in mass quantities, the extra could be sold or shared with other facilities.”

Savelle says the project will also be an educational tool for 4-H and FFA students, who have most likely never been exposed to citrus.

“It is also good for the community,” she explains. “Most citizens of Mitchell County are not aware that citrus can be grown here commercially. The plot where the citrus is planted is on a major road, traveled by many people every day. The visibility will spark interest in citrus and provide a means to further expand the base of farmers and investors growing citrus. Growth means more tax base, and more tax base means growth. It’s a positive, upward movement.”

Mitchell County’s budding citrus industry
Lindy Savelle, president of the Georgia Citrus Association, notes that there are several new citrus acres going in this year and next year in Mitchell County, Georgia. There are also plans underway to add a processing facility next year. Investors are currently looking at sites for the facility, which would be designed to grade, wash and package fresh fruit for end users.

“It’s a bit premature to say when and where the facility will be, until we get more growers locally,” explains Savelle. “It’s a catch-22; you can’t talk to buyers until you have lots of fruit/trees, but you can’t wait to talk to them when you do have lots of fruit/trees. It’s a balancing job to know when to time things. This industry is very new in Georgia, so we must be cautious and careful to grow a solid industry.”

Savelle says Georgia’s citrus industry, which includes various regions in the state outside of Mitchell County, is targeting the fresh fruit market and will dispose of secondary fruits via juicing or preserved fruit cups.

While there are no research plans for the citrus plot yet, Savelle believes the visibility of the trees and room for expansion on the land would make it an ideal research plot. “With the University of Georgia’s Stripling Irrigation research center literally just a few miles down the same highway, it is highly possible the center may decide to do some sort of microjet research on the citrus project.”

“I am very proud of Mitchell County for stepping up to do a model project such as this. We hope other counties will consider doing something similar,” concludes Savelle.

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About the Author

Tacy Callies

Editor of Citrus Industry magazine