Hunt sells oranges and other
fruit from a cart in front of his
Merritt Island grove. The future of
Brevard's citrus rests on hobby
farmers who, like Hunt, are willing
to put in the time and effort to fight
pervasive citrus diseases such as
canker and greening.
WINTER 2022: 39
“Now they are overrun with Brazilian
peppers,” Sullivan said.
Although not native, citrus has been in
America since Christopher Columbus
introduced it to the New World in 1493.
Ponce de Leon probably planted the
first orange trees in Florida and the
conquistadors soon noted how well these
young transplants grew in Florida’s
sandy soil and subtropical climate.
The trees grew wild, but were tamed by
post-Civil War growers, transplants who
abandoned other southern states for the
promise of land in Florida.
Sullivan’s family had grown oranges
since 1900, but these days, Sullivan
doesn’t own a citrus tree even in his
backyard. He still loves orange juice, but
he has to buy it at the grocery store, or
for a treat, from the Cocoa Beach Winery
& Gourmet Market, which carries cold
fresh-squeezed orange juice Sullivan
calls the “closest to the real thing.”
GROWERS FIND NICHE
If oranges have a future in Brevard, it
will be in the hands of hobby farmers
such as Jerry Hunt, a retired general
contractor turned grower. Of the 19
Merritt Island acres he farms, six are
planted with oranges at 100 trees per
acre. Six hundred trees represent a
miniscule number for a commercial
grower, but every fall, Hunt’s trees
produce enough navels to keep his little
fruit-stand-on-wheels well stocked.
A small sign announcing fruit for sale
directs customers to the stand in front
of his farm, a business he operates under
the honor system.
The secret to growing citrus these days is
simple but labor-intensive, Hunt said.
“You have to fertilize them a lot, and that
might not be cost-effective for the large
growers,” he said.
He leans on KPhite, a fungicide he mixes
in with the fertilizer to stimulate root
growth and combat the greening that
chokes orange trees.
Among the oranges are 27 pomelo trees,
a type of grapefruit perfect for eating,
but not so great as juice. The trees are
experimental varieties provided by the
University of Florida. If oranges have had
it bad in the last few decades, grapefruits
experienced it worse and help is needed
to bring the groves back to health.
Despite all the setbacks, farmers like
Hunt remain optimistic. Each new year
could bring welcome news for the groves.
“It’d still an uphill battle, but this year is
looking good,” said the optimistic Hunt.
The end result is well worth the effort. As
Sullivan notes on his mail order website,
“there is no better way to start your
morning routine than with a glass of
cold, fresh squeezed orange juice.”