While it’s been a few weeks now since we spent a day enjoying the Hendry county city farm tour, the memories linger. It was a spectacular day, enjoyed by a bus full of folks, and even the periodic downpours couldn’t dampen the spirits of the attendees.
You’re not alone. We, too, had no idea what The Hendry County City Farm Tour was all about. We were invited by neighbors, thought “what the heck” and signed on. No, we’re not farmers. No, we’re not into agriculture, but even us Snowbirds in Sebring Florida know about how important the orange industry, the cattle industry, and the vegetable farms are to the area and to Florida. According the stats provided by Callie Walker and the Florida Farm Bureau along with other government agencies, agriculture, farm industries and natural resources in Florida account for $148.5 Billion each year in revenue.
But enough with statistics. Here’s what’s involved if you, too, choose to take the tour next year. Ours was the 41st year of the tour. Want to make the 42nd tour? Read on.
We caught the bus in our village in Florida at 0 dark 30. Yup, it was an early start. Those that had been on the tour before and those hadn’t but were far thinkers, had brewed up travel coffee and snacks to take along for breakfast. It’s always good to have a few snacks along just in case it’s a long time between feeds. The bus stops often enough for bio-breaks that having lots of coffee first thing wasn’t an issue. Plus, there was a rest room on the bus.
First stop was the Hendry Country extension office in LaBelle FL. There we had access to rest room facilities, bottled water was available, and we had a short wait for the folks joining the tour from Ft. Myers to gather with us.
Then, off to the first stop to see some cattle.
HP Cattle Company, Florida
We learned that the HP Ranch was a “cow-calf” operation. Who knew? Take the tour and find out what “cow-calf” means if you, like us, had no idea.
It’s all about cattle, of course, and the ranch had real cowboys, including what was the youngest cowboy we’d ever seen.
Thanks to them for an informative presentation about the realities of raising cattle in southern Florida including information that cattle rustling was “alive and well”. Again, who knew. This is a link to a fairly recent news story about local cattle rustlers.
Onward, from the ranch to the citrus orchards.
Southern Gardens Citrus
First, a very welcome drink of fresh Florida orange juice upon arrival. Thanks much for that!
If you haven’t yet heard about “Citrus Greening”, at Southern Gardens Citrus we learned a great deal about this major citrus crop catastrophe unfolding in Florida.
“Citrus Greening” is a virus (sound familiar in the throes of the Covid 19 threat?) that is attacking the orange trees in Florida. Evidently all citrus cultivars are susceptible. When they get it, the tree develops “clots” in the passages running from the root to the branches and fruit, nutrients cannot get through, and the tree dies. No solution is at hand (again, sound familiar?).
We learned about the many issues – “Citrus Greening” and others – facing orange producers and how technology is being used to identify “hotspots” of infestation of all kinds, and the procedures being implemented to mitigate them. There is aerial mapping, individual tree identification, tree-specific feeding programs, the harvesting, and the marketing of their crop and much more.
As at the HB Ranch, we were getting the straight goods from the owners, from the folks with history in these Florida industries, some going back generations. It was fascinating, informative, and enjoyable. And the orange juice was real good too! 🙂
U. S. Sugar, Florida
Next on the tour list was a pretty in-depth and extremely interesting look at this vital Florida industry, sugarcane.
A few years ago we didn’t even know there was sugarcane in Florida. But my, there sure is, and it’s a huge industry, mostly located in central Florida south of Lake Okeechobee.
The sugar cane industry in Florida boasts the largest private railway system in the U.S.
Here’s what sugar looks like in the field. Sorry about the photos, but Florida delivered some periods of “liquid sunshine” during this portion of the Hendry County city farm tour.
The clear area to the front of the photo is what is left of a sugar cane field when its been harvested.
Fact: you can see sugar cane fields burning for tens of miles away. The fields are being burned not to clear the field for the next crop, but to remove all the dead leaves and foliage before the harvest, making the harvesting process that much more efficient.
This next photo shows the “beast” that does the harvesting.
As it moves down the rows, mowing the cane right to the ground, each of these machines are “mated” to a tractor hauling a cane container or “buggy”. And I mean “mated”. Using GPS and transponders, every single harvester is seen in “real time” on the control screen, and the receiving tractor and container is, too. It allows both to be directed in the path most efficient for harvesting a particular field, and also the system “knows” when a container is getting full, and notifies another tractor to move up behind, ready to take the place of a full container as it is pulled away. It’s non-stop harvesting until the field is clear. And then, the planting of new cane begins shortly thereafter.
And when the buggy is full, it pulls away from the harvester, another buggy is pulled in to take its place, and the buggy full of freshly harvested sugar cane heads to….
After visiting the sugar cane fields and seeing the harvesting and dodging raindrops for their outside, in-the-parking-lot presentation, it was high time for lunch.
While you could be forgiven in believing that since this was a farm tour, maybe there would be a veggie lunch? Well, there were veggies, but there were also 1 lb. loin steaks, one for each of us. These folks know how to put on a spread, believe me.
These good folks laid out these beauties, dusted them all with a made-local seasoning salt, and took them to the barbecue that was, at least, 20′ long.
The line you stood in to get your steak was selected by how you like’d em grilled. Some folks like them grilled to leather, others like them galloping on the plate. I like my steaks medium rare and that’s what I got. Oh my. Outstanding!
Lunch came with all the fixings too, including veggies!
After lunch, off to the sugar processing plant as part of our tour of the U.S. Sugar operations.
It doesn’t matter the brand of sugar you buy!
Early on in this part of the tour, our tour guide said “it doesn’t matter what brand of sugar you buy at the store, as all sugar comes from the same sources, and regardless of the brand, it’s all the same sugar!” Interesting.
During this part of the tour, mother nature decided to water the sugar cane and more earnestly. Nevertheless, we saw much, but just didn’t want to get out and walk around in the pouring rain for a close up view.
Here’s the just a part of the massive U.S. Sugar refining plant.
During harvest it typically runs 24 / 7 converting the chunks of sugar cane from the fields into raw sugar. I’ve “stitched” a couple of photos together to give a sense of the size of just part of the operation.
The sugar from the sugar mill is stockpiled in a raw state, accumulated as the harvesting progresses, and kept in storage in its raw state until such time it is needed to fill an order for sugar from a client. All sugar is then refined to order. The mill simply changes grind or the bag or box style to suit the client or the end user for that particular sugar order.
U.S. Sugar raw sugar storage in Florida
Massive buildings are needed to store the tons of raw sugar. Trains and truckloads deliver the cane to the mill, the mill begins processing and turns that cane into raw sugar. The resulting raw sugar is stored until needed, in huge storage facilities, hundreds of feet high and long.
Yup, that’s full sized front end loader pushing some of the raw sugar up towards a power shovel that, in turn, is picking up buckets of raw sugar, turning, and piling it higher and higher, right to the roof.
When the harvest is done, this, and other massive storage buildings on the U.S. Sugar property will be full to the rafters with raw sugar.
We were able to drive the full size highway bus into the building with lots of room to spare though the bus was soaking wet from the rain and the photo is affected by the rain on the glass and the reflection from within.
Sugar country in south Florida. Fascinating, wide spread, a business that employs lots of people, and supplies sugar throughout the U.S.
A statistic that might interest you… all of the sugar produced in the U.S. sugar mills can only supply about 30% of the US. demand. The rest of the sugar is imported.
Row Crops in Florida
After departing U.S. Sugar we heads for C & B Farms, just a short drive away.
Before visiting C & B farms I had not heard the term “row crop”. It refers to the thousands of acres of land in Florida that is used to grow rows of vegetables of all kinds and “row cropping” is what C & B Farms does.
A short tour of the packaging facility was followed by an informative presentation by the owner of C & B. If I recall correctly, they have 17,000 acres of row crops in this location making them the largest “row crop” organization in Hendry County and grow tomatoes, green peppers, cabbage, lettuce, cucumbers, squash, snap beans and various other varieties of these vegetables.
When this part of the tour was complete each guest received a large bag of fresh picked row crops to take home with them courtesy of C & B. I know it was “fresh picked” as one of the things that C & B prides themselves on is getting fresh produce to market.
In fact, as orders come into the farm they are picked and packed (in the store’s packaging if requested) that same day and shipped that evening to be at the store, and ready to put on the store shelves next day or the day after. Fast. From picking to plate. That’s how I know the food we received on our tour was fresh!
I do believe they even have a citrus operation at C&B too. Part of the take-home offering was a handful of the most unappetizing-looking oranges I’d seen. When I finally brought myself around to tasting them, I found that they were the very best, fresh oranges I’ve ever eaten in Florida. I don’t know the variety, but I sure wish I could find it again.
A good tour, for sure!
The Hendry County City-Farm Tour is presented by Hendry County and the University of Florida IFAS Extension and is, in my opinion, well worth taking. Nice folks, nice country. Good grub.