Many years ago, more than I care to count, Interstate 95 became my family’s pipeline from New Jersey to our favorite haven. We would pass South of the Border, the legendary South Carolina tourist attraction, but never stopped. What we were waiting for was the sign: Welcome to Florida! The welcome station was always our first stop. Why? To get that cup of delicious freshly squeezed orange juice. More importantly this signified the beginning of our Easter vacation. Hello warm weather.
Ready for one of my digressions? Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken was always our second stop. The Colonel was not my great grandfather, as many have asked with this last name, but if he was life may have been a bit different. Stopping at KFC sounds a bit weird when it comes to something to get excited about, but at that time it was really still a Southern thing — we could not get that luscious chicken with its secret spices in New Jersey.
Now that I am a Floridian, I have wanted to stop at a welcome center to bring back this childhood memory, but I always chickened out. I really did not want to be disappointed. I figured why not check Google? Sooo, “Hey Google, do Florida welcome centers still give out orange juice?” I found out they still do give out that delicious freshly squeezed orange juice, which is nice.
What does all of this have to do with our next shoot? Hold on. Where The Food Comes From visited Sunsational Farms in Umatilla, FL on May 4. Sunsational Farms sort of began in the 1970s by Nick and Sharon Faryna. They managed several thousand acres of local citrus and commercially contributed to Florida’s orange juice industry. But all this was about to change.
Hello citrus greening (you can hear more about this problem in Season 1, Episodes 8 & 9: Deadline-Florida Citrus). Citrus greening impacted the farm’s commercial orange juice production dramatically by the 2019-2020 growing season. But, where there is a will – there is a way. In 2019 the Farynas, along with their friends and fellow citrus growers Bill & Dru Baker, took one 18-acre plot of land and Sunsational Farms, as we know it, was created. I know, a pretty long introduction. Let’s check out it.
Our first interview took place in the orange grove with Brian Faryna and Bill Baker. I was surprised how scientific the conversation was and will leave it for the episode. We discovered 90% of their oranges are for juicing, as is the case with most of the Florida crop. Juice was the first part of the Sunsational story, but they wanted to do something more. They began educational field trips and created an environment for families to come and children to play.
We had two very special visitors with us at this shoot. Meet Nancy Bailey and Rob Robinson. Nancy is a huge fan of the show. In fact, it was Nancy who told Chip about Sunsational Farms. Nancy & Rob were so excited about coming to the shoot they gave up a trip to a Bluegrass Festival in GA. Now that’s dedication.
Our cameramen are amazing and one of them gave Rob a chance to get up close and personal with his camera. I imagine this really tickled Rob’s fancy, it sure seemed to.
Up next was the washing station for the fruit, which is always reassuring to see. This moved quickly and the washing station itself was way too high for me to take pictures. Cameraman to the rescue. He gave me a handheld monitor and I saw everything he was filming. This was great, but since I could not take any pictures I followed Bill to the juicing station.
The juicing room is very tiny. Bill’s responsibility is to thoroughly clean and sanitize all pieces of equipment used prior to the juicing process. My turn to get scientific. The equipment is sterilized with a peroxide solution that runs through the hose and the hoses are primed. But, before the solution touches any part of the equipment its acidity has to be checked using reagent strips. You see, the solution needs to be acidic for peak sterilization. I do like that.
Chip was in the juicing room while the oranges were going through, well let just say their demise, and the crew was standing outside the door. There was totally no room for me to take pictures or video. I did manage to slip one in at the very end and, as you can see, Chip thoroughly enjoyed the final product. While Chip was in the juicing room, I seized the moment and took off to the gift shop, better known as the Country Store.
This is one of the best gift shops our travels have taken us to. They have your standard jams, honeys, syrups, candles, wine, and soft serve ice cream. They also have some of the most interesting plaques and mugs I have ever seen. I spoke with the buyer as she was unpacking the cutest ladybug mugs. Oh, I was so tempted to buy them for my daughter as a joke. She despises lady bugs. Sorry guys, another digression.
While I was watching the sterilization process, Chip and crew were getting a tour of Sunsational Farms hydroponic gardens. Having missed this, I doubled back to check out the strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, and lettuce plants. The tomato plants are very impressive. I do attempt to grow tomatoes on my lanai, so I had to ask what type of potting mix they use. For all you tomato growers here you go: 15% Canadian peat moss, 10% perlite, 75% pine bark. Ugh, okay. I have yet to find that mixture, but to be honest I haven’t looked.
Our day ended with Bill and Brian sitting under a pavilion with Chip. They talked a little about themselves and their family history. Ironically, Bill is an accountant and Brian an architect. So what keeps them on the farm? They love working outside, want to be a part of the community, and provide a place for everyone to enjoy.
So what about the great big orange at the top of this article? It has a fascinating history onto itself. It is believed to be one of three oranges made in the mid-twentieth century to market fresh Florida citrus. It’s the huge silent mascot of Sunsational Farms having made its appearance in November 2019. But, Chip swears he missed it. Well…I don’t know about that.
Sunsational Farms is heavily invested in agritourism creating a true destination. It’s a great place for field trips, learning about farming, and enjoying the rocking chairs while the little ones play in a great make-believe world. Bonus: Check out the different festivals and celebrations throughout the year on their website!