End of an Era

Albritton Fruit Farms Will Likely Be Sold to Sarasota County Later This Year

The county expects to purchase the 341-acre, sixth-generation family farm for $19 million. Sarah Albritton says she and her husband hope to restart their beloved you-pick operation elsewhere.

By Kim Doleatto June 4, 2024

At Albritton Fruit Farms, 60,000 blueberry plants span 25 acres.

For many local families, Albritton Fruit Farms, located just south of S.R. 72 east of I-75, conjures happy memories of blueberry- and flower-picking. But later this year, it will likely become part of Sarasota County's Central County Solid Waste Disposal Complex.

That's because Albritton Fruit Farms' 341 acres at 9665 S.R. 72 in east Sarasota County are under contract with the county for $19 million, with a closing date expected later this year. The county already owns roughly 6,000 acres directly south of the farm, much of which is zoned for “solid waste," with only a portion serving as a county landfill for now. According to a county spokesperson, the Albritton Fruit Farms land will likely be used to “borrow soils needed for cover of waste at the County's existing Central County Solid Waste Disposal Complex, with the status of existing structures on the property yet to be determined." The county also intends to excavate areas of the property formerly used for agricultural needs for construction soil.

Albritton Groves, the Albritton family's landowning entity, is under contract to sell the acreage outlined in purple to Sarasota County.

The county commission approved the contract for the sale and purchase of the property on April 11, 2023. The Solid Waste Department is tentatively scheduled to present a resolution relating to the issuance of a bond to finance the acquisition of the land before the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners on July 9. 

The farm has been owned and operated by six generations of the Albritton family, one of the state's original citrus growers. The county bought roughly 1,000 acres from Albritton Groves, the family's landowning entity, in 2004. Previously used to grow citrus, it’s now zoned for solid waste. The deal for its sale to Sarasota County included a first right of refusal clause for the remaining farmland that's under contract today. (First right of refusal allows a buyer—in this case Sarasota County—to purchase or lease an asset before anyone else; they can also match or decline an offer made by someone else. If they choose not to buy, the seller can consider other offers.)

Back at the farm, what has become a seasonal ritual of blueberry picking has been canceled, and the farm's beloved blueberry bushes are also for sale for $15 each.

“It's eerie to watch people drive off with the bushes we planted in 2015,” says Sarah Albritton. Her husband, John Karl Albritton, is the owner's oldest son; he left his site development business to work with his father in the family business full-time. “There were rumblings about this deal mid-season last year. I’m not the owner, but [the sale] is not what we wanted.”

Sarah and John Karl met in high school, have three children, and have been living and working on the farm for years. John Karl’s great-grandfather, Dr. Karl Benjamin Albritton, is credited for the family farming legacy. The Albritton Fruit Company was founded in 1880 in Polk County by Civil War veteran Tom Albritton and is now considered the oldest continually operating family business in Florida. After a freeze destroyed their citrus groves, the family moved to Sarasota in the early 1900s, where Karl, Tom’s grandson, carried on the family business. 

Karl never earned a high school diploma but was accepted into the University of Florida because of his vast knowledge of the citrus industry. After graduation, he returned to the family farm in 1923 and is credited with developing the first citrus hedging machine. He was inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame and the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in the 1990s. He died in 2002 at age 101.

After its citrus business struggled due to greening and barred production roughly two years ago, Sarah spearheaded Albritton Fruit Farms' you-pick concept, which marked a new agritourism approach for the farm. “It was the path my husband and I wanted," she says. "The way to be successful is agritourism. Having [fruit] picked commercially is prohibitively expensive. Having others do it was our vision.”

They grew the operation on social media and you-pick took off—especially during the pandemic, when families sought outdoor activities that adhered to social distancing guidelines. “That put you-pick on the map,” Sarah says.

Still, she says, farming is a “difficult livelihood."  She cites the year-round, international availability of fruit, including blueberries, as a particular challenge. “The Mexican berry market has made timing crucial for a commercial harvest," she explains. "If you’re just a week or two late [with your harvest], it's the difference between a profit or complete loss. When Mexican berries come into the market, it's flooded with quality products at a very low cost, making them too expensive to harvest here, since they’re hand-picked.” 

“That’s where the agritourism part came in," she continues. "I was able to harvest you-pick until the end of the Florida growing season at a guaranteed price, whether I was harvesting commercially or not."

Without the necessary change to a focus on agritourism from the Albritton generation in charge, she says, "a sale was inevitable.” 

If the deal goes through as expected, it puts Albritton Fruit Farms to rest locally for now. However, the Albritton family still farms and leases 20,000 acres from the state at Dinner Island, in Hendry County, where they also have 3,000 cattle.

For now, there’s also lots of work to do on the current farm before the sale closes. When a farm sells, there’s a lot of cleaning up to do as specified by the Environmental Protection Agency, Sarah explains.

But it’s not quite the end of an era. Sarah and her family still plan on raising the seventh generation of Albritton farmers. “It’s always been my older boys’ dream to be in farming,” she says. She and John Karl are looking for other local land where they can put down roots, with an eye on continuing their agritourism approach.

 “It’s labor-intensive but rewarding,” she says. “We’re putting all our eggs in our own basket and moving forward as a nuclear family for a new chapter."

To buy an Albritton Fruit Farms blueberry bush, click here. To stay updated on what happens next, follow the farm on Facebook or Instagram.

Show Comments