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The story of a dynamic industry that dominated Lake County for more than 125 years
Lake Region Packing Association
Sign sponsored by Lake Region Packing Association
In appreciation to all employees and growers
Lake Region Packing is one of the oldest and largest packer, volume wise, in Lake County. In 1909 the Florida Citrus Exchange was organized and several citrus cooperatives were formed – Haines City, Winter Haven, and Lake Region. These were the first citrus cooperatives in Florida, many more would follow.
The Lake Region Packing Association plant was built on the shore or Lake Dora in Tavares. The railroad ran alongside the plant, providing convenient access to and from the plant by rail and water. The workforce consisted of locals and men from other regions of the country. Travelers who worked at the packinghouse found lodging at many homes around town. When the Lake Region Packing Association was established in 1909, the Florida Citrus Exchange was also created. The Florida Citrus Exchange was a statewide cooperative that assisted local growers in marketing their fruit. In 2005, after almost 100 years of operation in Tavares, the Lake Region Packing Association house was closed and razed.
Images of Tavares by Bob Grenier
When looking at Florida Department of Agriculture records one sees the importance of Lake Region Packing Association to Lake County. In 1938 the house was the third largest packer in the county and in 1971 Lake Region packed 1,753,597 cartons of fruit, which was 50% more than the number two shipper!! Clearly Lake Region was the dominate fresh fruit packer in Lake County for many years. They had their own marketing department with customers all over the country, especially east of the Mississippi River.
Lake Region survived for almost 100 years due to strong leadership and loyal employees. In 1926 Jennings Bryan Prevatt was hired as Manager. He was a World War I veteran born and raised in Kissimmee. After the war he spent 4 years as Kissimmee Citrus Growers Association House Manager. The next 46 years were with Lake Region as Secretary/Manager for 20 years and President/Manager for 26 years. Mr. Prevatt, know as ‘Babe’ guided Lake Region through difficult times and was blessed with a strong Board of Directors. One can read the narrative of an interview with ‘Babe’ at University of Florida website.
Lake Region capitalized on the marketing of the Orlando Tangelo. This was the first ‘new’ variety of any volume that reached the marketplace. Work on the ‘Orlando’ started at the USDA field lab in Eustis in 1892! You can read more about this facility HERE (link to USDA lab in Eustis). This unique combination of a tangerine and grapefruit brought a premium price and Lake Region was by far the largest packer of the ‘Orlando’. Creative marketing kept the coop alive during difficult times. They survived the depression and were the economic foundation of Tavares for many years.
Even though the freezes finally ended the packing operation, the cooperative under the leadership of General Manager John Veldhuis and the Board of Directors continued to market the fruit of the remaining members. Cooperatives generate capitol to fund facilities and equipment by withholding or retaining some of the earnings from members. For almost all cooperatives the ‘retains’ are on the books for a member, but never repaid. The retain was a member’s share of the facility. Lake Region Packing Association had considerable value in the land they owned – the actual packing facility and main office were located in ‘down town’ Tavares. The grove management location – barn with tractors, sprayers, etc. was located just south of Tavares. The coop had purchased land ‘out of town’ for future operation. The vision was to close the old house in town and build a new and modern facility south of Tavares. This never happened. When the decision was made to sell all the assets of the cooperative, all the revenue would be used to pay all members (current AND past) their retains. These growers provided the dollars to build the coop and now they would get those dollars back as the assets had grown in value over the years. Mr. Veldhuis did an unbelievable job in tracking down many many grower families and sending them a check! This is unheard of for coops. Lake Region will cease to exist sometime in 2021. All assets have been sold and the funds will be distributed. What a truly remarkable story!!
Other Lake Region Packing 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 were small caused a 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 orange is not perfect on the outside means 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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