Florida’s Natural Grove House: Exploring the Citrus Industry in Lake Wales

Lisa Fritscher June 24, 2012 No Comments

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Grove House Visitor Center Florida

The Grove House Visitor Center is a fun free attraction

Citrus fruits were introduced to Florida during the 16th century by Spanish explorers. Some experts believe that the very first orange tree in the United States was planted by Ponce de Leon himself in St. Augustine in the mid-1500s. The fruit grew well in Florida’s subtropical climate, but the citrus industry as we know it today was not established until the mid-1800s. Citrus fruits were grown on a small scale along the east coast of the United States as far north as the Carolinas, but the freeze of 1835 closed production in those areas.

Over the next century, production pushed gradually south as further freezes decimated the industry. By the turn of the 20th century, Central Florida citrus had become a massive industry. In 1915, Florida produced 10 million boxes of citrus. In 1950, production increased to 100 million boxes and by 1971, production reached 200 million boxes per year. Today, Florida produces more citrus than any other state, and is second only to Brazil in worldwide citrus production.

Florida’s Natural

Florida's Natural Grove House Exhibits

The interactive exhibits blend education with entertainment

In 1933, a number of Florida citrus growers recognized the power in numbers. Banding together, they were able to take advantage of the booming new industry. In 1938, the co-op, then known as the Florida Citrus Canners Cooperative, opened a new sect-ionizing plant with automatic juice extractors.

In 1940, the co-op signed a long-term licensing agreement with Disney to produce Donald Duck brand orange juice. The 1940s also brought a new concentrate plant and a contract to provide juice to the military during World War II.

Over the next decades, the co-op changed names and introduced quite a few industry firsts, including the now-common pour spout for cartons. The Florida’s Natural brand dates to 1987, when a new flash-pasteurization system created a packaged juice that is as fresh as it is possible to make. The cooperative changed its name to Florida’s Natural Growers in 1998, and the Grove House visitor center opened in 2001.

As of 2012, the Grove House is open 10 to 5 Monday through Friday and 10 to 3 on Saturdays, though the website warns that Saturday hours are “seasonal,” so call ahead before visiting on a Saturday. The Grove House is closed on Sundays and during the summer, typically from Memorial Day until the first of October. There is no admission fee.

Our Experience

Florida's Natural Grove House Juice Bar

Fortify yourself with all the free juice you can drink!

Dad and I arrived after lunch. The introductory film was just starting as we entered the building, so we headed there first. The short film did an excellent job of presenting the past, present and future of Florida’s Natural in an easy-to-follow way.

After the movie, we headed out to the exhibit galleries. The exhibits are a fascinating blend of black-and-white and color photos, artifacts and short film clips. Each exhibit provides a more detailed look at a portion of the citrus industry’s history or a part of the growing process today.

We spent nearly three hours examining the displays in detail, though if you have a more passing interest, you could easily see everything in an hour or so. The surprisingly large gift shop is well worth a few minutes of your time. Dad’s favorite part was the free juice bar, where you are welcome to sample all the juice you can drink.

Tips for Parents

Don’t be put off by the idea of a “factory tour.” The actual factory is across the street and is not open to the public. The Grove House is a fun blend of education and entertainment, a great way to cool off in the air conditioning for a while, and a good place to celebrate Florida’s pre-Disney history. The exhibits are child-friendly and the staff is always happy to answer questions

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Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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