With an ideal climate and sunshine year round, Florida is a cornucopia of deliciously diverse crops. The state ranks second in the nation for value of vegetable production, and takes top spots in specific crops as well, including first in the nation for oranges, fresh-market tomatoes, watermelons, grapefruit, sugar cane, fresh-market snap beans and fresh-market cucumbers. But while many of these fresh items may make appearances in your kitchens, how much do you really know about them? For example, did you know that Christopher Columbus was the first to bring citrus fruits to the New World? Or that Florida and Hawaii are the only states that produce a winter crop of snap beans? Read on to find fascinating agriculture facts about Florida products:
Florida is known for its outstanding citrus and accounts for 56 percent of the total U.S. citrus production. The earliest references of oranges date all the way back to 2200 B.C. in ancient Chinese manuscripts and documents, but Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing citrus to the New World. It is likely that Spanish explorers, including Ponce de León, planted the first orange trees between 1513 and 1565 in the St. Augustine area. Throughout the ages, the fruit of citrus trees have been recognized as a symbol of eternal love, happiness and holiness.
Today, the citrus industry spans 437,000 acres, generates more than $8.6 billion in economic activity and employs almost 4,000 citrus growers across the state. The industry also employs more than 45,000 industry-related workers.
In 2005, huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening disease, was detected in Florida and has been affecting citrus groves across the state since. Nurseries around the state, including Southern Gardens Citrus Nursery, who use spinach proteins to combat the disease, are working to fight off citrus greening.
Florida ranks second in the U.S. for production of fresh-market snap beans, an industry dominated by Southern states in terms of production, especially Florida and Georgia. Snap beans, also known as green beans, wax beans and string beans, are predominately grown in Alachua, Dade, Henry and Palm Beach counties. The peak season of these legumes lasts from November to May and Florida accounts for 32 percent of the nation’s snap bean value, bringing in approximately $76.3 million annually.
During the winter months, Florida produces 100 percent of the fresh-market snap beans and in 2015, snap beans ranked seventh out of the 10 most valuable produce crops in Florida. Snap beans originated in Peru and they get their name from the “snap” sound they make when fresh and broken in half, and are low in calories, sodium, and fat. Snap beans can be eaten raw, steamed, grilled, broiled or sautéed.
Sliced in a salad or in a refreshing glass of water, there’s a good chance your cucumber came from Florida. According to the latest Census of Agriculture, Florida produced 280.8 million pounds of cucumbers in 2012, with Hillsborough, Manatee and Hardee counties being the top cucumber-producing counties. In 2015 alone, Florida accounted for 37 percent of the nation’s cucumber value, bringing in approximately $64.4 million to the state. Cucumbers ranked eighth in the 10 most valuable produce crops in Florida.
There are three growing seasons for field-planted cucumbers in Florida: fall is from September to October, winter from November to December and spring from January to March.
The cucumber is native to India and has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years, including when Christopher Columbus first introduced them to the New World in 1494 after planting some in Haiti. Soon after, DeSoto found cucumbers in Florida. Like watermelon and cantaloupe, the cucumber belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family. And even though cucumbers come in a variety of sizes, shapes, textures and colors, including white, yellow and orange, they are all made up of more than 95 percent water.
A tasty tropical fruit, guavas are grown commercially in Florida, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. They are rich in vitamins A, B and C,as well as iron, antioxidants, calcium, fiber, protein, and potassium. Guavas originated in Mexico, Central and South America, and were said to have been first planted by Spanish explorers in North Florida in 1500. Around 1816, Seminole Indians are said to have cultivated guava trees in the area. Guavas would go on to be produced by 155 farms and grown on 1,312 acres of land.
Guavas are harvested year round in Florida, though the main seasons are from August through October and February through March. The two basic types of guava produced in Florida are pink or red pulp types that are consumed when ripe and white pulp types that are consumed when non-ripe. The entire fruit is edible and the insides of a guava can be white, yellow or pink. Guavas are best eaten when fresh, but can be refrigerated for up to three days. They are most commonly consumed as fruit juice, but are also great for fresh jams, jellies, marmalade, desserts and pastries.
Florida farmers grow several varieties of Asian vegetables, including Chinese cabbages and melons, plus Thai fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Sanwa Growers in Tampa produces bok choy, Napa cabbage, daikon, kohlrabi, Chinese eggplant, ginger and more. Daikon originated in East Asia and the name literally means “big root.” The vegetable has a texture similar to that of a turnip and the flavor is both sharp and spicy when eaten raw, but sweetens when cooked.
South Florida’s Thai community produces curry leaves, jackfruit, lemon grass, holy basil, Chinese watercress and more, which are supplied to Thai markets and restaurants. Other popular vegetables include jackfruit, a native of Southeast Asia that is harvested in Florida from May to November, and bok choy. Bok choy is a type of Chinese cabbage that is popular in Southern China and Southeast Asia and, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture, Florida harvested approximately 3,206 acres of Chinese cabbage in 2012. Lychee fruit is a native of Southern China and is often used in desserts, sauces and marinades.