BRADENTON - "God, just help our citrus industry here in this state." The prayer that begins the celebration offers insight into the struggle for citrus farmers.
"Congratulations," Governor Rick Scott tells the crowd gathered in a pavilion at Mixon Fruit Farms Thursday, as helps it mark 75 years in business. His visit comes in tribute to support from the Mixon family, in testament to citrus's importance to Florida, and this farm's survival.
“There's several around the area that have lasted but there's a lot that have gone the way of development or gone out of business,” says Dean Mixon, who has worked most of his life on the citrus farm his grandfather founded in Bradenton in 1939. Back then, the farm grew fruit, and sold it, later shipping it around the country. At one time, it made most of its money from shipping gift boxes of fruit. But shipping costs have cut deeply into that business. Farms have sold groves to developers, and diseases such as canker and greening have attacked many that remained. The governor says he sees the urgency in helping one of the state's signature industries.
“The most important thing is we've got to focus on greening,” Scott said after the event. “We've got to continue research on greening, and we're going to do that. but on top of that, we've got to continue to get tourists here.”
Mixon Fruit Farms has grown from a grove to a tourist attraction itself. The pavilion where Thursday's event happened, an outdoor gazebo, and the gift shop now account for most of Mixon's business.
“It's very important. It's one of the things we've wanted to do in revamping our business. We've had to go back to the drawing board a bit,” Mixon says.
He says the farm has had to replace most of its trees, some dating back to the mid-1800's, in the last decade because of disease. It sold off 250 acres to developers in 2006, but it wants to keep the farms going, and will look for more ways to diversify so that it can.