By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
February has always been a big month for the Florida citrus industry — so much so that the Florida Citrus Exposition was created in 1923 to help promote the annual crop. It took place every February and incorporated numerous competitions and events over 11 days.
In 1954, the exposition included an opening-day parade; Canners and Allied Industries Day; Mayo Day, honoring then Commissioner of Agriculture Nathan Mayo; Fresh Fruit Day; a fruitmen’s dinner; and Governor’s Day, with Acting Gov. Charley E. Johns, who temporarily served after Governor Dan McCarty died while in office. That year, the Florida State Chamber of Commerce coordinated an “Eat More Citrus” drive with 25 statewide groups. The month of February was designated as Eat More Citrus Month.
In the February 1954 edition of Citrus Industry magazine, an article titled “February Is Eat-More-Citrus Month” stated: “The Chief Executive calls on all persons in Florida to lend a bulky hand looking toward the consumption of as much as practicable of the 1953–54 crop of nearly 122 million boxes of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and limes; grapefruit particularly, he said, because of its larger than usual supply.”
The article continued, “The Governor also mentioned in his proclamation that citrus fruits could be served in innumerable ways and intimated that with but little ingenuity housewives, and cooks in hotels, restaurants and dining cars may concoct all manner of delectable citrus menus.” The proclamation went on to note that “No food can be healthier, the Governor declared, none tastier, and none is more vitamin-packed. Moreover, the Chief Magistrate pointed out, thousands of Floridians earn a livelihood growing and marketing citrus products.”
In 1955, newly appointed Governor LeRoy Collins attended the Florida Citrus Exposition and helped continue the promotion of Eat More Citrus Month. Elected governor in 1954 to complete the remaining term of late-Governor Dan McCarty after he died of a heart attack, Collins was re-elected governor in 1956 for a four-year term. He was the first American governor to simultaneously serve as chairman of the Southern Governors’ Conference and National Governors’ Conference and was the first Florida governor to serve two consecutive terms.
During his tenure, Collins advocated for improving Florida’s public school system, established the state’s first community colleges and was a proponent of creating good race relations. In addition, he created the State Development Commission to promote Florida industry, agriculture and tourism at every opportunity, including sending boxes of fresh citrus to all other governors in the nation during the annual Florida Citrus Exposition.
While February is no longer heralded as Eat More Citrus Month, May has several national opportunities to promote Florida citrus. Orange Juice Day and Candied Orange Peel Day are on May 4, Juice Slush Day is May 20, and my favorite, Mimosa Day (although I prefer “gramosas” — champagne with grapefruit juice!) is May 16.
Whatever day it is, celebrate and enjoy … the Florida citrus way!
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.