38: SPACE COAST LIVING | SPACECOASTLIVING.COM
Sullivan, the consummate grower, remains active in the industry
through a small mail order operation, and he keeps abreast of research
that might revive the groves. There have been some promising studies
such as the experiment in Polk County to grow citrus under screens.
The University of Florida has planted disease-hardy experimental trees
on the grounds of Field Manor, the historical Merritt Island home once
ringed with groves.
The Dundee Citrus Growers cooperative is encouraging growers to get
back in action by loaning them $10 per tree planted, a loan that will be
forgiven when the tree bears fruit. In neighboring Indian River County,
investors from the United States and abroad have joined forces with
commercial growers to help develop 1,500 acres of grapefruit.
ROCKETS WIN OUT
In the Space Coast, however, hopes for an orange renaissance are
dim, and the space industry had more than its share in halting
the development. Nine thousand acres of prime groves, including
Dummett’s historical plantings, once grew in the area NASA deemed a
buffer zone for the Kennedy Space Center. Sullivan’s family owned 850
The government bought out the owners but allowed them to lease the
groves for a few years, until the Department of the Interior decided that
the land should revert to native vegetation.
“They told us that citrus was introduced in Florida only in the 1400s and
that it did not qualify as native,” Sullivan said.
The groves languished and died.
Harvey's Groves, once a major
Space Coast citrus producer, shut
its packinghouse doors in 2017.
BREVARD COUNTY HISTORICAL COMMISSION
Douglas Dummett's orange grove on Merritt Island is considered
the mother grove for all current citrus in Florida. Cuttings and
seedlings from the grove saved the industry after it was decimated
by a freeze in 1835.