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The story of a dynamic industry that dominated Lake County for more than 125 years
Umatilla Citrus Growers Association
Sign sponsored by Greater Umatilla Historical Society
Dalton Yancey, Elliott Seabrook, Winkie Kennedy, Chuck Allison and Cliff Whitaker
In appreciation of all citrus growers and industry employees
The Umatilla Citrus Growers Association was organized in 1909. Founders of the organization were T.A. Smith, Sr., John Clark, and D. McCollough. Locally this company was known as the ‘Exchange’. This is not to be confused with the Florida Citrus Exchange which is a state organization. Records show growers had 14 acres or less in bearing trees in the year 1909. Considering the past freezing winters, this was a large acreage. Many local families were, or later became, members of the Umatilla CGA. R.L. Collins became a very large citrus grower in Umatilla and was president of the association in 1914 and held that position for several years. Mr. Hipson, a grower member was employed to manage Umatilla CGA for many years. In peak years there were around 120 members.
The old packinghouse stood on the corner of highways 19 and 450W. The last day of packing in this house was on December 21, 1983. The large old building was torn down and the HandyWay/Subway is now in this location. The business has moved to East CR 450 and has about 40 members at this time, and is still an active business in Umatilla. It is, after 95 years, the oldest continuing business in Umatilla. Packing labels they used were ‘UMATILLA BELLE’, BLUE BEAK’, DUCK HEAD’, ‘DRUM MAJOR’, and ‘LAKE UMATILLA’. The last one is an old label and collector’s item. Along about the years of 1912, the young people of the town were allowed to go upstairs and roller skate on the wooden floor of the building’s second floor.
Helen Guenther Scott, North Lake Outpost, October 2004
Records from the Florida Department of Agriculture show Umatilla Citrus Growers Association shipped 88,560 cartons of fruit in 1938 which was a little more than 2% of the fruit from Lake County. The 1963 publication listed 22 licensed packers in Lake County and Umatilla CGA was one (no reported volume of fruit moved). 1971-72 report show the cooperative packed almost 40,000 cartons.
A new packing facility was constructed south of Umatilla in Dona Vista in 1981. It only operated for one season as the freeze of 1983 took Umatilla CGA out of the fresh fruit business! The cooperative sold the ‘new’ house in 1986.
Other Umatilla Citrus Growers Association Labels
View the Jerry Chicone collection
View the Jim Ellis collection
Most packers had several labels they could use. The primary color of the label indicated the grade of the citrus in the box. Blue was US #1, the best quality from the packer. Red was US #2, a step down and occasionally another color was used for fruit not making US#1 or US #2. It should be noted that almost all the Florida fruit that did not meet US#1 standard was due to external appearance. The internal quality was the same! Florida conditions, namely a hot wet summer, produced a large number of pests that would damage the surface of the fruit. The primary one is very small mite, specifically the rust mite. This pest can produce a dark brown or russet blemish on the surface of the fruit. Several fungal organisms also can cause damage to the peal. Melanose produces small raised spots producing a fine “sand paper’ feel. When heavy these lesions can cover a large portion of the fruit surface as well. Windy conditions during spring when the fruit are small cause surface damage as well (this is known as wind scar – the small fruit would rub against leaves producing a superficial blemish to the peel).
Florida growers have to deal with these superficial blemishes because the consumer is looking for a perfect looking piece of fruit. Sugar content cannot be determined by looking the fruit, so don’t be quick to decide that if an orange is not perfect on the outside that does not mean it will not taste good. Florida citrus might not be the prettiest in the bin, but they cannot be beat for taste.
The Packing House
To learn more about Lake County citrus click here
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