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Florida citrus is one of the most recognizable symbols of our state. Flavorful oranges, ruby red grapefruit, sweet, tangy tangerines, succulent tangelos, lemons and limes fill our Florida citrus baskets. 

As a kid growing up in Florida, I remember that most every household grew citrus in front or backyards. Traipsing through the neighborhoods, as kids do, we were never without a juicy, healthy snack. When we would visit my grandparents, my brother and I would run throughout their spacious grove, breathing in the sweet fragrance of the blossoms while gorging ourselves with fresh picked fruit.

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This is the time of year to pick your favorite citrus or visit your local grove. If you want to experience this quintessential authentic Florida activity, I highly recommend visiting a Florida citrus grove whether you pick your own or not.

Many years ago, orange groves and U-pick operations were more abundant. Nowadays, land development, insurance liability, foreign competition, citrus diseases and other agricultural woes have reduced the number of smaller family-owned businesses. But take heart, your citrus dreams can still come true. I have located one nearby family operation that offers the U-Pick experience. 

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U-Pick Citrus, Ft. Myers

Owned and operated for over 30 years by Bob and Judy Johnson of Fort Myers, U-Pick Citrus is a family-owned farm that will delight your authentic funny bone.

Your visit will involve a drive through the countryside, with the scent of orange blossoms and the feel of Florida’s past.

Head to Ft. Myers and travel along a dirt road while following the makeshift country road signs. Once you get to U-Pick Citrus, you’ll meet Bob Johnson and Little Bob (his dog), likely standing in a makeshift open-air eclectic garage and fruit stand. Bob has creatively decorated the corrugated building with a menagerie of collected road signs and license plates surrounded by rows of beautiful citrus. The U-Pick orange grove and property doubles as home for the Johnsons. 

Bob will tell you where to pick, depending on the season and your preferences. Buckets (resembling pickle buckets) will be lined up outside, generally resting on a luggage tote rack, so you can pull it along as you pick. Bob instructs visitors to fill the five-gallon bucket with oranges, charging $13 per bucket. Cash only. Customers can also purchase tangerines, grapefruit, lemons and limes individually.

After receiving your instructions, walk up and down tree-lined aisles looking for the best fruit. For the harder-to-reach fruit a pole with a hook on the end may be provided to make it easier. Just reach and tug. It falls to the ground with a “thump” and you’ll be one or two oranges richer.

Bob and Judy designate one-third of their proceeds to charity and have an honor system if they aren't available. And a special added note: No pesticides are used by the Johnsons.

Depending on the season and availability, there’s plenty to choose from. Usually, from November through April, weather permitting, you’ll find a wide variety.

Address: 18971 Misty Morning Lane, Estero (Ft. Myers)

Open: December- until the end of April

Hours: Wednesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays 10:00-3:00 pm

Phone: (239) 657-4996; be sure to call first

Email: u.p.citrus@gmail.com

If you prefer to purchase from a retail outlet with fruit fresh from a Florida grove, here are some options in the area:

Albritton Fruit Company, Sarasota 

(941) 923-2573

5430 Proctor Road, Sarasota

Brown's Grove, Parrish

(941) 776-2710

12255 U.S. 301, Parrish

The Citrus Place, Terra Ceia (no website)

(941) 722-6745

7200 US 19th North, Terra Ceia

Joshua Citrus, Arcadia

(800) 749-8219

4135 SE County Rd 760, Arcadia

Mixon Fruit Farm, Bradenton 

(941) 748-5829

2525 27th St. East, Bradenton

Nokomis Groves, Nokomis

(941) 488-5274

111 S. Albee Farm Road, Nokomis

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