Courtesy Florida State Archives
Citrus includes fruits such as oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, lemons, and limes—none of which are native to Florida. The Spanish planted the first orange groves in St. Augustine in the 1500s. A French count introduced the first grapefruit seeds near Tampa in 1823.
Citrus has long been one of the state’s most important industries, but the last decade has brought many challenges: urban development, disease, abandonment of non-productive groves, hurricanes, freezes, and the conversion of groves to reservoirs by the South Florida Water Management District. During the 1997-98 season, Florida had 785,900 acres of commercial citrus groves that produced 304 million boxes of fruit, a record high. In the winter of 2007-08, the acreage dropped to 554,400 acres that produced 162 million boxes.
Courtesy Richard A. Marconi
Palm Beach County once had thousands of acres of citrus groves, including the largest lemon grove in Florida on what is now Mecca Farms. On Lawrence Road between Gateway Boulevard and Lantana Road there were three citrus groves: Ridgeway Groves, Palm Beach Groves, and Knollwood Groves, one of the oldest in the county. But by 2000, most owners sold their land to developers for residential communities, including these three. The last remaining citrus producer is Callery-Judge Groves in Loxahatchee, started in the 1960s by Francis Callery and son James. The owners are trying to convert their farmland to a planned community of homes and businesses. After that, there will no longer be commercial citrus production in Palm Beach County.