Indian River fruit was once so
prized and had so many copycats
that the appellation is legally
permitted to be used only for the
fruit grown in a 200-mile strip of
land between Daytona Beach and
West Palm Beach.
Frank Sullivan of Sullivan Victory
Groves retains a small mail-order
citrus shipping operation, but no
longer owns any orange groves.
WINTER 2022: 37
Disease and development have forever changed the
landscape of Brevard, once redolent with the fragrance of
orange blossoms that promised the gustatory delights of
Indian River fruit, prized above others as the king of oranges.
SELLING BETTER OPTION
Citrus diseases such as canker and greening walloped the
Florida citrus industry, but in Brevard, growers also had to
cope with the undeniable fact that land was worth more for
development than for agriculture, that more — and easier
— income could be realized from selling sickly groves than
from trying to save them.
“When I first got started, Brevard had 29,000 residents,”
Sullivan said. “Now we’re closing in on 700,000.”
Suntree resident Joyce Wilden grew up on her family’s 80-
acre farm in Micco. While her parents did not grow citrus,
the farm was bordered by citrus groves.
“We used to ride the horses through the groves all the time
and one of the grove owners let us pick whatever we wanted
for our own consumption,” Wilden said.
The groves were long ago replaced by a housing development.
GROWING NO MORE
Although the south end of the county boasted a fair amount
of groves, it could never compare to Merritt Island and Cape
Canaveral, once the heart of Brevard’s citrus production.
Douglas Dummett’s Merritt Island grove, which survived
the devastating freeze of 1835, saved the industry after
Dummett distributed cuttings and seeds to growers around
“Back in the day, most of
Merritt Island was citrus,”
The fate of Sullivan Victory
Groves reflects the industry’s
health. Sullivan, a thirdgeneration
Sullivan, a third-generation citrus grower, witnessed the end of an era with the demolition of
the Sullivan Victory Groves packinghouse last year.
provided juice manufacturers —
and orange-loving consumers
worldwide — with thousands
upon thousands of boxes of
oranges, each weighing in close
to 100 pounds.
Freezes in 1983, 1985 and 1989,
when temperatures hovered at
17 degrees for hours, walloped
Victory Groves, as it did all the groves in
Brevard. Then came the canker, a citrus disease
that blemishes the fruit but does not affect the
flavor of the juice. At least the oranges could
be salvaged for juice, but then the groves took
another hit with the appearance of greening,
which keeps the fruit from ripening, from ever
By 1991, Sullivan had closed the packinghouse.
“There was nothing to pack,” he said.
Indian River fruit was once so prized and had
so many copycats that the appellation is legally
permitted to be used only for the fruit grown in
a 200-mile strip of land between Daytona Beach
and West Palm Beach.
Statewide, the industry remains beleaguered.
In 1997, the state produced more than 340
million 90-pound boxes of oranges. The number
dropped to 67 million boxes last year, according
to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.