Grove tour with Aran Goyoaga Food Writer, Stylist & Photographer
We recently had the pleasure of a visit from Aran Goyoaga, Food Writer, Stylist & Photographer, and her family. They came to take a grove tour and learn more about our commitment to organic. It was a fun afternoon with them, and we thoroughly enjoyed their visit! Below is a copy of Aran’s blog post as well as some pictures she took. The photographs are beautiful and we love her recipes. Click on the link to get the recipes.
I wanted this winter break to be special for the kids. Although I knew that I would spend much of the time working (I am in the middle of copyediting the manuscript), it was important to me to schedule activities that were both fun and educational. That is when it occurred to me that I should take them to visit a citrus grove. After all, we live in Florida, the land of citrus, no?
I thought of how excited Jon and Miren would be to pick some of their favorite fruit right of the tree and learn a bit more about where we live. I knew they would.
Then, my next question was… “where do we go?”
I didn’t know where to begin my search. I asked around and searched on the internet. How hard could it be to find a citrus grove in the land of mail-order citrus gift-boxes. I called and called, but got nowhere. It seems things have really changed in the last few years in the citrus industry. After the devastating freezes they had in the mid 80s, many small growers lost most of their groves and since then, the industry has become much more industrialized.
“We don’t allow people to walk the groves for liability reasons, but you can visit our packing house” is the answer I heard the most. “But we really want to see the trees and pick the fruit! Why would I want to see a packing facility?” is what I kept repeating.
I got no answers. Until the day I picked up a bag of organic oranges at Whole Foods.
I saw the name Uncle Matt’s under a big sign that said “Local”. Right then and there, I googled them on my phone. I was so excited to find an organic citrus grower not far from where we live. I sent them an email as soon as I got home to see if we could come visit and shortly I received an email back saying “It would be our pleasure!”
Just like that, we planned a trip to visit Uncle Matt’s.
We decided to make a day trip out of it. Invited my friend Karen and Jon’s best friend Daisy along for the ride. C. even took the day off from work to join us.
The kids were beaming. Cool, sunny winters-day.
When we arrived, the entire McLean clan who is the family behind Uncle Matt’s greeted us. Benny McLean, the patriarch, comes from a long line of citrus-growing Floridians. Who else would have such great insight into citrus farming but him. Matt McLean, Benny’s son and CEO of Uncle Matt’s (the business was named after him) explained to us the genesis of it all and the importance of organic practices.
Annemarie and her daughters and nephew joined us as well. Daisy, Jon, and Miren were excited to find new friends and share the experience with them. The McLean children are used to being in the fields and working the land and that is very obvious. They are naturals.
Benny gave us a thorough explanation of how the citrus industry in Florida has evolved. He explained to us how they address the issues of winter freezes, insects, and disease under organic practices. He spoke about the trees’ immune systems and then, just like that, I wanted to cry out of joy. Maybe because my own autoimmune disorders, anytime a doctor, farmer, or individual addresses the importance of strengthening our bodies ability to defend from disease, it gets to me. I get it. Benny’s words resonated.
I loved learning about how wasps are used to fight disease and how wasps live on their property pollenating these tiny white flowers that in conventional farming would be considered weeds and immediately removed.
They have created a harmonious eco-system and we could sense it. There is peace at Uncle Matt’s.
The fruit was outrageously sweet – candy-like and warm from the sun.
We all picked from the trees. The sweetest red navels, Hamlins, honeybells, pink grapefruit, gigantic pommelos, and lemons. The tangelos were still ripening and so were the Valencia oranges. They also grow avocados, blueberries, and peaches. We even spotted some blossoms on the peach trees.
Our kids and the McLean kids bonded over picking fruit.
Such a beautiful sight.
As we were walking around, my mind was spinning thinking about what I was going to make with all this beautiful fruit.
The first thing was a fresh salad. Don’t we all crave citrus salads after all the holidays? I know I do.
Simple lobster and citrus salad with tarragon-oil dressing and spicy radishes.
We played at the farm until nightfall.
The kids were happy from a day in the sun — in nature.
And I was completely inspired by passion and dedication from those who see beyond a mere business and create a healthy and sustainable lifestyle for their family and community.
Back at home, we have been enjoying fresh citrus every morning. A mix of red navel and honeybell is Jon’s favorite. How could it not be right?
Just like candy.
Even though it is winter and yes, it finally got down to the 40s, I still craved sorbet. I made pommelo, hibiscus, and vanilla bean popsicles that we had outside under the sun. It felt good.
Also made vanilla and cardamom natillas with sliced of citrus and ladyfingers using all the leftovers from recipe testing.
So thank you Uncle Matt’s and the McLean family for your time and generosity. We will never forget it.
And to all of you, happy 2012!
All photos: © Aran Goyoaga