PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (WTHR) — For most people, citrus and Florida go hand in hand. A generation ago, Anita Bryant sang on commercials around the country, "Come to the Florida Sunshine Tree, for fresh tasting orange juice naturally!" Those days are, in a very real way, gone. Go to your local grocer and chances are the oranges you purchase are from California or Mexico. Still, Florida is home for fantastic citrus. While it doesn't dominate market share like it once did, it still dominates. Florida is responsible for 63 percent of the nations citrus production with the main crops... oranges and grapefruit.
The added competition and new diseases that hurt valuable crops have meant Florida's citrus growers have had to change and adapt to the changing world market.
Enter Al's Family Farms. This resourceful, family owned business sits off the side of King's Highway near Fort Pierce Florida, in the heart of Florida's Indian River Citrus Region. Al's isn't just a farm... it's an experience. The family here has made the farm a total destination where visitors... especially children can have an experience of taste, education and entertainment.
Owner, Jeff Schorner took over the family business after his father, Al passed away back in 1987. A visit to Al's Family Farms today is a blast from the past, the way old Florida used to be. Back in Al's day, Kings Highway was “wall to wall” citrus stands, as winter residents and tourists loaded their trunks with big bags of incredibly sweet, Indian River Fruit. Today nearly all of the fruit stands and packinghouses have disappeared, but not Al's! Clinging to “old school values,” they still do things the old fashioned way. Al's hand picks and gift packs the freshest fruit from local groves.
Citrus, gift fruit and fresh squeezed juice is their specialty, but Jeff's wife, Sharon also makes incredible, homemade fudge. Sharon moved from Florida back in the 80s to Bloomington where she studied at Indiana University. She returned home, married Jeff and for over 30 years they have, along with their sons and a dedicated staff, made the Farm a must visit for Florida visitors.
Knowing that the internet and corporate farms had caused many citrus growers to shut down, Jeff and Sharon have focussed their business on internet and mail order gifting of citrus, operating a small cafe on the grounds and engaging in agri-tourism, where visitors can get a full experience from seeing how oranges grow, are harvested, are packaged and the different uses of citrus. It has been a fantastic idea and in this competitive citrus environment, Al's is holding its own by being unique.
This year was bitter sweet for the Schorner family. While son Brad is serving in the military, son Matt is majoring in Citrus at Florida Southern University. This past packing season was the first one for the family with no sons on hand to take part in the picking and packing.
If you decide to visit Al's during your Florida vacation, keep in mind that you can take a guided tour of Al's Family Farms through Easter. You'll learn lot's of cool citrus facts and trivia, enjoy a good meal and see first hand how this family business still does things "the old fashioned way."