Vero Heritage: Stories from the Groves

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when we used to have grapefruit blossoms here they smelled like sheer heaven and money I am and NB Michael otherwise known as Mrs. Joe Michael I live on Orchid Island my husband and his family grew citrus we don't grow citrus any more since the 2004 double hurricane took it away killed it dead in two weeks living in Illinois is not very close to Florida but I have a cousin first cousin who lives in Vero Beach and he knew my husband Joe and his sister and I came down here to visit one winter and two winters later Joe and I were married and hence I am here in Indian River County since 1950 and I love it I plan on staying in 1887 my husband's grandmother was diagnosed with something that needed warmer climate they were from West Virginia so Joe's grandfather History Eske Michael bought land in Florida sight unseen and when he came down to see it not by plane but by wood-burning train it was under water and on the train there was a man named George King who lived in what is now Indian River County and he suggested that Indian in that area would be a good place to purchase lands and A.B. Michael bought his father's property I believe in nineteen two or nineteen three. A.B. not only took what his father had started and made it flourish but he had a few little odds and ends going on in between time. He was at the age of eighteen, captain of a trade boat that went up and down the Indian River, selling dry goods and flour and grits and sugar and so forth to the very very very few inhabitants along the river. There weren't roads there, weren't bridges across the river. A.B. started his his own first plantings of citrus in nineteen two when he came back to what is now Indian River County from the trade boat. Reason he had success here was mainly because of the soil which was little broken up teeny tiny pieces of seashells and a very very alkaline soil and it was just very warm and the same thing was true of Florida in general for citrus because of the soil which most most of the soil in Florida was better for oranges but this on orchid island was better for grapefruit because of the extreme alkalinity and the trees did not have to send down a taproot they could well they could have set it down but it would have been cut off by the high level of water the water table from the ocean between the ocean and the Indian River these Orchids teeny tiny orchids each flower that's about the size of my thumbnail are currently called Encyclia tampensis commonly known as butterfly orchid those orchids were grown almost entirely on live oak trees throughout orchid island. In the 1960s 70s 80s, probably not quite that early the developers not realizing that these orchids were growing in the live oak trees in clearing the property for their developments just eliminated of the oak trees. Shortly after we built this house in 1957 there were no oak trees here and we really wanted some oak trees so we planted about eight of them not all at once, they all died. When we we were able to get some oak leaves to use as mulch ha ha there were oak acorns in the oak leaves and we must have at least 10 live oaks now that's one reason why we didn't have any orchids growing here naturally the ones that when they were clearing things at the for the Grove if there were
orchids Joe brought them home and I kept them alive until storm surges and hurricanes and so forth took them out have you ever smelled grapefruit blossoms if you've never smelled grapefruit or orange blossoms you just haven't lived I'm trying to think I can't think of anything that
comes even close they're very sweet with a little tartness the fragrance has a little tartness to it but it's everywhere it's just everywhere if your when it doors and windows are open it's just there and it lasts for well not a full month but a strong three weeks because they don't all bloom the same day

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My name is Dan Ritchie, and I am the President and CEO of Riverfront Packing Company. The packing industry revolves around having volume, and as volumes diminished, certain packing houses were struggling. All of us were, and we've collaborated with Mike Vigaravalia and the Rogers family, Rusty and Sid Banak, and come together for packing all three of our company's fruit under the roof of Riverfront Packing in a very collaborative way.

We had the advent of citrus canker, and part of the citrus canker protocol to survive was to burn trees that were infected. They determined trees were infected by finding a pencil point dot of a citrus canker lesion on one leaf. We took a 1900 foot radius from that one dot or one canker lesion on a leaf and burned every tree within that 1900 foot radius. That was the only way that was determined that we could eradicate citrus canker. So, in that eradication effort, we burned thousands of acres of grove to the point that we were actually eliminating the industry.

Along with eliminating citrus canker, the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 caused citrus canker to spread beyond ever being able to eradicate it. So, it became endemic, and at that point, we just decided to stop the eradication program. The hurricanes also imposed upon us a loss of fruit and a loss of trees. There was some death, primarily everything along the river when we had the salt water come up from the river, it killed those trees.

Then, we had urban encroachment. Riverfront Packing is sitting on the corner of US-1 and 49th Street for a reason. The family owned everything from here to the river, and this is Riverfront Groves. Originally Scrant Harbor was all citrus; it was all groves. Orchid Island and Windsor were all groves. With the Leer in the Michael family over there now, there is not a grove, a viable commercial grove east of I-95 where there used to be plenty of groves east of I-95. They're just not here anymore.

And then we had citrus greening, which is the real issue. We're really struggling with that. When I was chairman of the citrus commission in the late 90s, we had 60 million boxes of grapefruit grown in the state of Florida. A box is 85 pounds, to give you a sense of size. Today we have four and a half million. So, clearly, the infrastructure that was built for 60 million boxes has collapsed, and there are only a few of us surviving to pack this volume of fruit that we have.

Greening is detrimental to grapefruit primarily because grapefruit is most susceptible to the disease. This is a bacterial disease that in essence, to keep it simple, it is a clogging of the main artery of the tree. What happens is the bacteria gets into what we call the phloem, which is the area where you have photosynthesis and the roots and the exchange of the nutrients. It chokes it off, so the roots start to die back first, and then you see the Asian citrus psyllid symptoms in the tree that are indicative of the disease. That is another disease that is clearly endemic. It is spread by an Asian citrus psyllid, a small insect. It carries the bacteria; it feeds on the leaf, flies to the next leaf on the next tree, and feeds on that leaf. There are a bazillion Asian citrus psyllids; we cannot control them, so they're all infected; they all have the bacteria. Every tree, arguably every grove in the state of Florida, is infected with greening. It's just a matter of time, arguably, that the tree will eventually die. We are doing all we can in therapeutic means to try to sustain this fraternity of trees while we look at some new combinations of rootstocks and varieties that seem to be resistant to the disease. Lemons, certain types of oranges, certain types of mandarin oranges, grapefruit, we don't really have an answer. There is one variety within the grapefruit scheme of things, Star Rubies, that seem to be resistant to the disease. We have no idea why. There's no explanation for it, but we're working with those to replant and to try to continue to have a viable industry, and we will. We will survive. This industry is never going to be what it was in my lifetime, but it will still be here; it'll just be different, not unlike a lot of things in the world. This industry was one of the major stools here. When you think about the economy of Indian River County, and you think about the year that Piper was on strike, baseball was on strike, and we had a freeze, that spring was pretty quiet around here. And you think about the icons in this community that were related to the citrus industry, starting from the north, the Kennedy family, the Rile family, the Graves family, the Green family, Smith family, the Barnes family, the Sextons, the Richardson family, the list goes on and on and on. I probably miss somebody of very high importance, but those families were some of the most giving families in this community when there was no other industry here. The United Way was still, is supported by those of us that are still in the industry, the education foundation. Dan Richardson, I think, was one of the starters of that. So, you look back at the history of this community and the not my generation, the generation before me that really gave back to this community, and the firm leg on the stool of our economy was citrus. It was really centered around citrus. That's not the case anymore. We've got diversity. We've got a lot of home building. We've got tourism. We've got different things going on that have stepped in to fill that void, but those of us that are still here feel very much a sincere desire to continue our role as contributors to the community in any way that we can.

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My name is Dan Richie. I'm the President and CEO of Riverfront Packing Company, which is a vertically integrated company of 4,000 acres of Grove, a fresh fruit packing facility, and a marketing company that markets our fruit globally. 85% of what we do here goes into the international markets. What you're seeing here is an export. Back though, as she's packing it, she's looking at the quality and as she gets to the top layer, she'll look for the absolute best quality to put on the top. This is the blossom end, and this is the stem end, and you can see just a general appearance is better. We want that to be on the top layer. We don't want that to be on the top layer. What you're seeing is the proof going into the middle. This week, that is for domestic. The proof is staying here as it is export, so like this would stay the export, this would probably go to juice. They missed it out there, and then something like this would go to domestic.

Each piece of fruit has a picture taken of it. It determines the diameter of the fruit. They average the four pictures to a diameter. That diameter is determined. The computer tells it where to drop all of the same diameter fruit. So, all the same sized fruits being dropped in the same place to be packed by the packers. It's all interfaced with a sticker system. We have five label banks here with all different stickers, plus the outruns on either side. All these are different stickers for different customers. This is a thirty-two size 32 domestic fact. There are 32 pieces in here, that's why it's a 32. This is what you asked a question, what do we do different for export?

Notice the carton is bigger, and you have this type of packaging done. That's different because this is going in the international market. It's got a long trip. Same size food, little different grade. If you look at the carton, it's bigger because you don't want to have pack pressure on something that's going to be in the carton for 40 days. You look at the grade, but as I mentioned to you, you notice these are all blossom ended up. Now get a view of that. Now if you pull that carton now, you can get a perspective of it. Now if it wasn't blossom end up, close your eyes and if you were to look at it like this what's your impression? So, it's details. If you take care of the little details, the rest of it takes care of itself.

We want to know who that backer is. We give them a number, and it goes into our payroll, and then we generate payroll from this. Well, when I was in Japan once, a gentleman said to me, "This is the way we like our food packs." And I saw, okay, that was Packer number 14. So, I thought, "I'm gonna figure out how we can put her name on this carton so when I go over there, I can have pictures taken, and they can see the carton that they packed standing with the Japanese customer. And it's a pride thing. And then I was proud of them. Packer number six becomes Alicia Ramirez, so she has her name on every carton that she packs. And if I'm in Japan and I'm looking at this carton, this carton will be in Japan. And if I'm over there visiting, I'm going in April, and I'll have pictures taken, and I'll have a picture taken with this carton next to the Japanese customer with her name on it.And I'll bring it back and give it to her. I'm proud of them, and I want to let them know that their work is being recognized. And im proud of them, and I want to let them know that their work is being recognized.

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My name is Alden Bing, and I am the co-owner and co-founder of Orchid Island Brewery. So, I grew up here in Vero Beach, I'm a Vero Beach native, and since I can remember, I have grown up adjacent to citrus groves. One of my favorite things growing up was climbing trees. Most of the fruit that we use is grapefruit, all varieties of grapefruit, white, pink, red, but there's a chemical compound called linalool that is in very high concentrations also in hops. So, the peel oil, in a sense, gives us the ability to complement and amplify the flavors that already occur in popular beer styles such as IPA. The style of beer that plays very well with beer and really enables us to showcase the citrus is a style that originated in Florida about ten years ago over in the Tampa area called a Florida Weisse. And a Florida Weisse is an evolution of a much, much older style of beer that comes from Berlin, Germany, called a Berliner Weisse. And this style of beer was described by Napoleon when he invaded Berlin as the champagne of the north. So, it's a very refreshing style of beer. It's also been called the most refreshing style of beer that you can get. It's a low-alcohol, typically around 3 or 4 percent tart beer or sour beer. And then what we do is to balance out that tart flavor is will add back citrus in the sugar and the sweetness from the fruit to balance that beer out. If you can think of the perfect refreshing Beach beer, that's what this is.

The beer that we've invested the most time and passion into is Star Ruby, which is our grapefruit double IPA. It has become what Orchid Island Brewery has become most synonomous with. So, grapefruit conveniently works really well for Star Ruby, but it's also what Indian River has that the type of citrus that Indian River has become most known for. I chose to promote Indian River citrus with Orchid Island Brewery because it's something that we're very proud of. Even though my family doesn't come from a long heritage of Indian River citrus industry or business, being in close proximity to it and having consumed it and learned about it from the time I was a little kid, I've always taken ownership, in a sense, to it.

I think the last time we took account, we sourced fruit from about 20 different citrus families. I think it's fair to say that most of our citrus at the moment comes from Schacht Groves. We use their grapefruit, the Ruby Red grapefruit, first for our Ruby. One of our next projects is harvesting grapefruit blossoms from some of the abandoned groves because we don't like to take the flowers from trees that are otherwise gonna produce fruit, but there are several abandoned groves where we're gonna be harvesting blossoms from, and we're gonna treat a whole batch, six-barrel batches of Star Ruby with it. I don't know that any other commercial example of beer has been treated with blossom before. You may see other commercially advertised beers that claim citrus blossom, but my hunch is that a lot of those beverages have flavors that are engineered. Trying to replicate that is near impossible.

The brewery has given us an artistic outlet to express ourselves individually, but it has also given us an avenue to help preserve the agricultural legacy of the area. And it gives us a deep sense of pride to be able to do that because in a day and age where you can order something online and have it shipped to you the next day from halfway around the world, I think a lot of identity is being lost with local cultures, and this is our way of pushing back against that.

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I am Elizabeth Graves Bass. I grew up here and was born in Vero Beach. Even though every time I tell one of the visitors from the northern parts of the country that I was born here, they're very surprised. I assure them that people were indeed born here. They did birth babies back then, and my family has always been in agriculture in one form or another. Eventually, in the years of my life, we were in citrus, and my father was Rip Graves. He was very prominent in the citrus industry. He's in the citrus Hall of Fame, and he's also in the agriculture Hall of Fame, which is a little bit bigger deal in this County.

We're the longest-running citrus company that is still in the same families. This started with my grandfather and his brother, and then there was my father, and then there was my brother and me. I always said I was the other Graves brother. The two brothers went into business together as young men. Then they eventually moved to Indian River County, and that would be in the early 20s that they moved here, and they started out growing vegetables. My mother came down from Virginia, and she was a teacher, and daddy always said that the teachers didn't get paid till Graves Brothers paid their taxes because this was depression time. I think it was true. It's probably true. They had to sell some land. They owned a tremendous amount of property. They owned two townships.

The best grapefruit is that which is produced under the Orchid label. That's what Japan always bought. They were the country willing to pay a premium for their fruit, and so a lot of our fruit went to Japan. And there actually is a Japanese man. I can't tell you his name, but he owns the Orchid label. He bought it when Deerfield gave it up. He was quick, and he bought it, but we owned Graves Brothers' exclusive right to use it in this country.

Daddy had just an incredible memory, and I nagged him until he started writing them down. And the result of that was two books. This is one of them, The Graves Brothers. It's the history of the company for the first hundred years.

There's an old story, but history credits Abraham Lincoln with the story of an old farmer plowing his field with a mule, and a bystander who was watching the farmer and the mule go back and forth, he noticed a big horsefly that was stinging the poor old mule. So when the mule passed by within the man's reach, he reached out and swatted the fly. The angry farmer turned to him and said, "Why in the world did you have to go and do that for? That's the only thing that was making him go." So, I think that maybe I was that fly. I was the only thing that was encouraging or maybe nagging my dad until he started writing down these wonderful memories, and so we have this book.

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My name is George Hamner Jr. I'm president of Indian River exchange Packers Inc. We're a citrus growers shipper organization in the business of citrus. We're vertically integrated; we not only grow citrus, we also take crops other people grow and then convert them to cash. That means we harvest the fruit, pack it, and sell it to the supermarkets or people around the world.

First of all, from a regional standpoint, the biggest business in Florida is the growing of oranges for processing Florida juice. However, the Indian River area, with its calcific soils, humidity, and high water table, which stresses the trees slightly, creates a higher sugar Brix ratio that makes the flavor of fruit in general better. But grapefruit from the Indian River became unique years and years ago because we couldn't grow the boxes per acre for the production on our land that we could grow in the interior. So there was less fruit per acre available. The grapefruit itself grew very well. So the area really began and specialized more to a grapefruit than it did toward oranges.

The Indian River area is unique in the fact that we have high sugar with a higher acid that kind of gives it that twang. And that's proven by studies from Texas, California, South Africa, Mexico, Turkey, wherever you want to get grapefruit, Israel, around the world. The Indian River part of Florida has got the best grapefruit truly in the world, scientifically as well as psychologically. The fact that Indian River fruit was special meant that it's ingrained in our blood. I mean, we bleed red grapefruit or white grapefruit or pink grapefruit. We always have. And even though for years 50% of our crops were oranges and only 50% was grapefruit, every one of the people in the fresh fruit business kind of walk, talk, and breathe grapefruit because that's what the region is known for and that's where we specialized in sales.

So it's deeply ingrained in our industry over here.