PIECES OF THE PAST: Gratitude for Growing Florida Citrus

Tacy Callies Pieces of the Past

This elk was spotted in the Roe family’s Brighton grove in 2020.
(Photo by Adam Roe)

By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

December is always a favorite month for me. It’s a time to reflect on the trials and tribulations from the past year and a time to be thankful for the blessings in our lives that have brought us through difficulties. December brings anticipation for the upcoming year and what lies ahead. For citrus growers, December also means harvesting, the start of winter and the uncertainties of how the weather will affect the crop.

In interviewing people over the past year for the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame’s Oral History Program, I came across so many people who were just thankful to have been a farmer and in the business at all. They described their joy in working the land, seeing the fruits of their labor, feelings of accomplishment in doing a job well done and the camaraderie with their peers. Despite the many changes that have occurred over the years from storms, pests, disease, markets, etc., every last person interviewed was just grateful to have been part of Florida’s citrus industry.

Every generation has had their share of ups and downs. The devastating freezes in 1894–95 completely decimated the fledgling industry, yet somehow growers found the fortitude to rebuild, replant and renew. There was overplanting, low prices, then canker and more freezes in the 1980s. Yet still the industry survived. Hurricanes, high input costs, lack of labor, greening, minimal fruit — and here we still are … battered, worn, but like Old Glory, still standing with the sun rising to give us yet another day to cherish.

No one knows what the future may bring, but farmers have always known that. Our forebears have struggled just as we struggle for those who will follow in our footsteps to carry on a tradition, to celebrate our livelihood and to care for our families, friends and communities. In that light, I’d like to share an excerpt from a poem titled Florida Citrus Life,” written in 2020 by Quentin Roe, president of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame:

“As many citrus farmers come to know and love,

Their land is what they cherish, the water, sand and dove.

The rich and flowing texture that water brings to life,

From citrus trees to bumblebees, all creatures drink by right,

And bless the many soils that Florida brings to bear.

Clays and sandy soils, they each produce with care.

And all the many growers love to talk of game

That roam their lands abundantly as God so rightly tamed.

Farming is a blessing for those folks who love that life,

Away from all the stresses that can come from office strife.

And so we reach into the past to know from whence we come,

The citrus greats who paved the way, who gambled on the run.

Their never straying fortitude to plant and sell the goods

Produced from groves of toil, their energy withstood

The trials of storms and pests and cold, no matter what the lot,

These citrus barons gave for all as good as ere they got.

Graves and B.H. Griffin, Hunt and Duda, too. Scott and Lykes,

Raley, Roe, Bowen, Paul and Berry, Schirard and Spykes,

Hundreds more who fairly fought to make our citrus great.

They all deserve a standing call for driving forth this state.”

A new ornament, available for $50, helps fund Florida Citrus Hall of Fame outreach efforts.

There are so many who have given so much over the years for the betterment of the Florida citrus industry! Please take a moment to visit floridacitrushalloffame.com to see the oral history interviews, read the inductee biographies and visit the past through viewing the many photographs, postcards and citrus labels in the archives. It’s a rich history that has shaped the state of Florida in so many ways.

With that, I wish you the love and laughter of friends and family, prosperity in the new year and the many blessings of this holy season!

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.