Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Century of Farming Tradition

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Century of Farming Tradition

Article excerpt

For decades, the Brown family grew just citrus, harvesting oranges from groves near the corner of McIntosh and Bee Ridge and shipping them around the country from the old town center just south of there, on Proctor. But then, a decade ago, Tim Brown decided the family, which has been farming in Southwest Florida since 1915, needed to diversify.

"The citrus industry has been shaky for the last 20 years," says Brown, seated at a small table in the shaded back corner of his family's small Parrish roadside market. He ticks off recent challenges: cankers, hurricanes, freezes, citrus greening. "There's been a lot of hurdles for the citrus industry."

To use an agricultural metaphor, the Browns had too many eggs in one basket. So Brown branched out. The family began growing its own heirloom tomatoes, leafy greens and more; started selling their own produce, plus fruit and vegetables imported from other states and countries, at a number of local farmers' markets; and opened the Parrish farmstand where Brown and I are chatting.

That diversification philosophy has also led the Browns to plant citrus all over the area, which helps the family withstand brutal weather and to minimize damage from citrus greening, which can quickly take over whole groves. Even with all its new ventures and products, citrus shipping remains the core of the Brown's Grove business--Brown estimates that the family mails out around 3,000 gift boxes each Christmas.

The family has groves in Sarasota, Manatee and Hardee counties, but the small acreage behind the Parrish stand is dedicated to some of the family's more recent pursuits. Travis Brown, Tim's son and the fourth generation in a line of farmers that goes back almost a century, shows me the small sprouts of this season's heirloom tomatoes, just planted. "These seeds go back hundreds of years," Travis says. "They're fragile, but they've got a lot more flavor."

The Browns mold their field into long, flat-topped rows, then cover them with plastic--white on the top to keep the plants cool, black below to keep out light and prevent weed growth. …

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