Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sunrise Citrus joins GreenMarket

I'm looking at a press clipping from 1978 that features Bob ("a farmer from Arkansas") and Anna ("a Boston college student") Waite, then spending their second winter in SW FL, growing and selling citrus. Amazingly, they have changed little since then. And they are still growing and selling citrus, plus avocados, tropical fruit, and vegetables, 30+ years later.
Navel and red navel, Hamlin, AmberSweet, Pineapple and Valencia oranges; Fallglo, Dancy, Sunburst and Punkan tangerines; White, Pink, Ruby Red, Asian Pummelo, and Star Red Ruby grapefruits; and Mayer and Bearss lemons are part of what Sunrise Citrus (and associated growers, as they are a co-op) are bringing to the GreenMarket. You may be interested in seeing some pictures of their operation here.
Journalist Drew Sterwald of the News-Press wrote a story recently ('Tangerine Tango', 12/2/09) that presents a nice overview of the citrus industry in SW FL, including a bit about history, recipes, etc, focusing on tangerines. About the Waites, he says that "since they bought their land in 1983 and turned it into a farm, they've lost half of an annual crop to hurricanes, survived the threat of citrus canker and seen acres and acres of SW FL farmland swallowed by development."
Haven't we all seen so much good land swallowed by 'growth'... that's one of the reasons it's so important to support local farmers, to make it worth their while to farm, creating long-lasting relationships with the land, knowing that they and their families will still be there 10, 20, 30 years from now.
Talking heads and free market hacks talk about protectionism like it's a bad thing, but I think there should be a lot more tariffs and taxes for imported goods, especially imported fruit and produce.
During my travels when I was younger, I had an opportunity to see some agricultural practices in Mexico and elsewhere, and they are dismal, with no regards for workers' rights or the environment. If we let all that produce into our supermarkets to pay a few pennies less and make the fat cats a big profit, then we need to understand that there's hidden costs to cheap asparagus and oranges: near-slavery conditions, polluted land and streams, and unhealthy produce that tastes like cardboard from being picked too early.
And it works both ways: farmers in Central America who have been growing corn and beans for the local markets, using organic methods and heirloom varieties for many generations, get pushed out by the subsidized, cheap prices of giant industrial agriculture concerns in the US and their Monsanto genetically modified frankencrops. A whole way of life is lost forever, just like a way of life is lost here in Florida every time some greedy moron decides to bulldoze a citrus grove to build a gated community or a shopping plaza.
It's happening everywhere, and it's our responsibility to do what we can to stop the trend. One thing I found I have in common with the Waites is that we are all former kibbutz (Hebrew word for “communal settlement”) volunteers. They spent time in Kfar Blum, in the Golan Heights, I was a volunteer in Yakum, near Netanya on the coast, and an Israeli friend tells me that real estate deals and the older generations passing away are slowly putting an end to the whole kibbutzim dream. To think of the avocado and citrus groves where I spent some of the happiest moments of my youth being replaced by shopping and factories is beyond sad.
So I guess in that sense I'm a conservative: I want to keep whatever's good that previous generations have left us. Fruit groves are unquestionably good. They are good in Florida, good in Israel, good in Brazil. It's true that sometimes it makes more economic sense to raze them to the ground and build Chucky Cheeses in their place; that's the more reason to not let economics rule our lives. We need a more holistic approach, one that incorporates not just what's good for the economy, but also what's good for the land, and what's good for future generations.
I'm very happy that Bob and Anna's Sunrise Farms have joined the GreenMarket at the Alliance for the Arts, and wish them much success there!