A picture worth more than a thousand words
The legacy of a citrus family lies in faith and passion.
Recently, a new Publix store opened near our office, and I had the pleasure to share my first visit with my dad, Benny. We enjoyed the moment together as we grabbed a couple bottles of Uncle Matt’s Organic juice off the refrigerator shelf and snapped a photo for memories.
It’s a great picture with dad that I’ll always cherish, but what’s more is what’s not pictured: A story of perseverance in the face of adversity, and a story of adapting to change whether we were ready for it or not.
The location of this particular Publix used to be an orange grove in the 1980s. One cold night in ’83, a devastating freeze killed 300,000 acres of citrus crops. Six hundred of those acres belonged to my family. That freeze, and the following ones in ’85 and ’89 forever changed the landscape of our small rural town. What was once rolling hills (yes, hills in Florida) of citrus groves became a commuter city for Orlando and the world-renowned theme parks down the street.
My father and grandfather lost everything during the freezes, and the McLean family ties to Florida citrus might have ended those cold, harsh nights. Their faith and passion for farming, however, pulled them through. What they didn’t lose inspired decades of dedication to growing a business we all believed in organically.
My grandfather moved two hours south to where the citrus was replanted. He saw the positive, opportunistic side in these events. He was committed to his agricultural roots even if that meant moving somewhere new. My father, on the other hand, stayed in Clermont and became a consultant. He traveled across Florida, Central America and the Caribbean to make a living by educating others about what he knew best – citrus growing.
Both of these men motivated me to start Uncle Matt’s Organic. When I first launched the company over 20 years ago, Publix was the first big retailer I approached. It took two years, but the buyer finally gave me our big shot. Our final meeting with Publix in 2001 included three generations of Florida citrus growers: me, my father and my grandfather. Our organic juice has been on their shelves ever since.
While it can be sad to think about what once grew in the place where a grocery store now stands, I’m reminded of the proud moment my family experienced together. Thinking back, I don’t know that any of the three of us thought we would’ve made it this far. That’s why after over two decades of running this business, I don’t let the small wins go unnoticed. Every store that opens, every retailer who picks up our product, every new shelf placement we gain is a reminder of all that’s possible even when at one time all seemed lost.
It’s so much more than a picture. It’s a citrus story.