Monday, February 6, 2017

Florida Produce: A Great Reason to Visit the Sunshine State

Oranges waiting to be squeezed.
Florida's sunshine and moderate temperatures make it a wonderful environment for growing things.
When Fred's Mom and Dad retired they moved to Port Richey, Florida.  Every Winter just before Christmas they would send us a giant box of oranges and grapefruits. We loved those deliveries. The juicy bits of citrus seemed to bring with them a tiny bit of the Florida sunshine that made them taste so good. When we visited Fred and Jane's home in Port Richey we were amazed by the huge grapefruit tree in the back yard and the little orange trees that they had planted. They grew mangoes and Papayas on the side of the house and tomatoes under the fruit trees. The yard was a gardeners paradise.
Those memories return every time we stop at a roadside stand or citrus orchard. This year it was our turn to send those little bits of sunshine northward.
Florida Oranges
We visited Mixon Fruit Farms in Bradenton to do so.  Mixon's is a family owned and operated business that has survived the sprawl of development, the devastation of citrus canker, and encroaching developmen. Established in 1939 the farm started with a 20 acre grove and grew to 350 acres by 1990. It is smaller now
at 50 acres and is once again flourishing. 
Dean and Janet took over the family business in 2006.  They have rebuilt the fruit farm and successfully marketed it as a destination. Today Mixon's grows 21 varieties of citrus and ships 30,000 gift boxes a year.  
Fred and I visited the farm twice and enjoyed both visits. Mixon's has a lot to offer. The store and gift shops offer a variety of locally sourced foods that include orange blossom honey, and a delicious orange ice cream flavored with their own juice. We tried the orange ice cream twisted with vanilla. It was so good.
On weekends the store frequently has sampling stations so that you can try cookies, flavored popcorn, citrus juice, wine and fudge before buying. One day that we visited there was a chili cook-off competition. Local high school chefs made their favorite version of chili and told us about their recipes as we tasted our way through the room and voted for our favorites.

The odd looking Budda's Hand is very fragrant but it lacks pulp or juice. 
We took a tram ride through the citrus groves seeing oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes. There were other more unusual citrus varieties like Pomelo, Budda's Hand and the giant Ponderosa Lemons.

One of the stops on the tram tour is at Wildlife Inc, a Florida wildlife and education center. Dean and Janet Mixon have provided land in the grove for this organization that rehabilitates animals to return them to the wild. Wildlife Inc also provides shelter for animals that cannot be safely released due to injury, behavior or non-native status.
If you are near Bradenton we recommend a visit to Mixon Fruit Farms, you will be glad to have made the trip.
We are staying in Arcadia during February. This small town is in farm country and we are enjoying the bounty of their crops. Tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries are currently in season along with the citrus crops. There are miles of orange groves in the surrounding area. It is not unusual to see enormous trucks full of citrusy goodness headed for the juicing plants. 
Local fruit and vegetable stands are plentiful and we have identified our favorites, visiting them every couple of days for the best and freshest selections.

Mixon Fruit Farm
2525 27th St. E
Bradenton, Florida