By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
I just found several old Thanksgiving postcards with citrus themes that are quite beautiful. They are from an era when postage was a penny, and people sent postcards to friends and family on holidays. With everything going on in our world today, the postcards reminded me of the importance in reflecting on what’s good in our lives.
An article from the proceedings of the 1937 Golden Jubilee (50th) Meeting called “Society Reminiscences” by H.G. Hastings recounted some of the early hardships for Florida growers. Hastings lived in Florida from 1883 to 1899, when “it was real pioneering, the building of houses to live in, clearing land in the almost unbroken pine forests and planting orange trees of any and every kind of questionable pedigree. Few, if any, of us knew any better. Little or no orange nursery stock was available. The game frequently played was to induce the native cracker, who had a few bearing trees around his cabin, to part with them for a few dollars per tree.”
According to Hastings, struggles growing a crop included “the nearly starving seven dollar cow and the razor back hogs that, in those days were worse and more damaging pests to the orange and vegetable growers than all the later pests and diseases. The range cow and the hog owner was king in those days and, if you couldn’t do the almost impossible task of building a fence that would turn these animals, it was just too bad for you. It was free range country and a fruit or vegetable grower had no rights that a scrub cow or a razor back hog was bound to respect and the courts in many counties were loaded with cases against fruit and vegetable growers, who disputed with a shotgun, rifle, or sometimes poison, the rights of these predatory animals.”
But perhaps the most interesting observation from Hastings was this: “The rules of the fruit and vegetable growing game in Florida had not been worked out. Florida conditions were and are different from anywhere else in this country and probably in the world and the larger part of the failures and disappointments of those days came from our ignorance of how to do things right under conditions that none of us from other states and sections had ever experienced before. One of the most striking things in the situation was that the most successful of those of the early days were mostly professional or business men, who had never had anything to do with fruit or vegetable growing or farming before they came to Florida. While they had plenty to learn, they had the advantage of nothing to unlearn and they were fully open-minded, while the men who had followed horticultural or agricultural pursuits in other states, were handicapped by their past experiences and practices under entirely different conditions. Through this half century we are now celebrating, the men who have composed the membership of this organization, both those who have passed and those present, have unselfishly worked out the rules of the game to large degree.”
Hopefully as we move forward, we will continue to look back and make our own “Society Reminiscences” — thankful for progress that has been made and hopefully learning from our mistakes.
The pandemic, though dreadful, has brought home and family back to the forefront, making them priorities in our lives that many may have neglected due to work and travel. May you find your own Thanksgiving joys this year as you take stock of the blessings in your life!
Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.
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