October 23, 2014

Florida Life - Getaways

Appealing Trip: Florida's citrus groves

The Citrus Museum in Eustis and the Showcase of Citrus in Orlando are just two places that honor our heritage.

| 11/17/2011
John & Julie Arnold and Family
John and Julie Arnold (with sons Josh, 14, John Forrest, 7, Jason, 13, and Jackson, 9), own Showcase of Citrus in Clermont.

In the rest of the country, Thanksgiving marks the end of the harvest season. In Florida's upside-down seasons, November marks the beginning.

Most of our farmers markets have just opened, the full line of Florida's winter crops is coming to bear, and pickers are snagging the first early varieties of citrus off the trees.

It's a perfect time to go back to the farm. Florida's inland groves and you-pick farms provide edifying day trips and weekend activities for children and adults.

Orange groves may sound like poor rivals to beaches and theme parks, but the fruits were once a big part of Florida's attraction to a winter-weary nation. Despite changes in the industry, visitors still get orange juice at state welcome centers, and fruit stands still beckon on rural roads, tourist routes and interstate exits. Wherever you're going, stop in. You may see the packing line and juice squeezing or get a lesson on the difference between a tangerine and a tangelo.

In fact, one of the most unusual attractions in the tourist zone around Disney World today is the Showcase of Citrus, 40 acres of you-pick citrus trees along with otters and alligators in Clermont. You can sign up for a monster-truck ecotour through the swamps and pastures, or pick your fill of citrus every day of the year and pay by the half-bushel.

Citrus has much to offer to residents as well: It may not be as crucial to our economy as it used to be, but it's a key to our history, environment and even our geography. Count Odette Phillipe brought the first grapefruit to the U.S. from Barbados and planted it in Safety Harbor, and a commemorative tree grows in front of the town's museum (that seedy white fruit, the Duncan, is out of favor now but still the sweetest). The Parson Brown orange, once the most popular, came from a tree at Brown's parsonage in Webster. The first Temple orange was found in Winter Park. Road maps of central Florida keep that heritage alive in places like Satsuma, Minneola, Tangerine and Murcott Hill.

Museums across the state celebrate this heritage from the Citrus Museum, an old packinghouse in Eustis, once the orange capitol of the world, to the Indian River Citrus Museum in Vero Beach. Virtually every museum and library in Citrus Country has displays, archives and reproductions of vintage fruit labels. At the Tampa Bay History Center, a clever exhibit lets visitors design their own.

While Florida is only slowly developing the B&B farms of agritourism, there are you-pick groves, roadside stands, gift shippers and packinghouses within an hour of most Floridians. With 74 million trees, there have to be!

Tags: Dining & Travel, Agriculture

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