Friday, January 28, 2011
CITRA — They arrive in the rain to buy oranges, bags of them, and maybe a quart of juice, fresh-squeezed. At North Florida’s last honest-to-God citrus stand, they drive up in cars bearing license plates from Delaware, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other Yankee states where orange-laden trees are only a winter’s dream.
At the Orange Shop, established 75 years ago in Marion County, time has tried to stand still. Once there were dozens of similar mom-and-pop citrus shops and packinghouses standing like dominoes up and down the county’s major road, U.S. 301. There were citrus trees by the thousands and grizzled men on wooden ladders plucking oranges. There were freezes, too, but when the ice thawed the farmers always replanted.
It’s different now. Citrus is mostly a South Florida industry. In North Florida, shopping plazas and golf courses and gated communities have replaced the groves where old-time orangemen sweated, bled and raised families.
The Orange Shop is a relic. Behind the little family-run business, 10 acres of trees try to stay warm. Out back is a modest warehouse with a tin roof and an owner who refuses to quit.
Pete Spyke, 60, is the stubborn fellow. A third-generation orangeman, he sometimes hears a back-of-the-mind voice that says, “It’s too cold for citrus in North Florida. Move south.” He ignores it.
Yes, lots of his trees froze in 2010. But yes, he is poised to replant. That’s what an orangeman does.
“You live with the cold up here,” Spyke says. “It comes with the territory. You go on.”