Season 4, Episode 06

A Day Without Sunshine

Return to Episode: A Day Without Sunshine

Donna Sanders byline and headshot.

Treacherous walking conditions – with sand so soft and fissures so wide you can get swallowed up, trees that resemble skeletons, and smoldering fires. Are we in a war zone? You would think so, but we are not. Where the Food Comes From visited Dundee Citrus in Dundee, FL on October 27. Not your typical Behind-The-Scenes introduction but trust me the outcome will surprise you.

DunD field of dead trees.
Dun-D up close shot of two dead trees in field.
Dun-D Citrus dead field smoldering pile of ash.

What happened? Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus or more commonly known as citrus greening. It is one of the most serious citrus plant diseases in the United States and once it infects a citrus tree there is no cure – hence the war zone. The enemy is an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid. You can learn more about it in Season 1, Episodes 8 & 9 Deadline Florida Citrus and how it has affected two citrus farmers in Season 4, Episode 2 Sunsational!  But all is not lost! Let’s see how one citrus farm is dealing with this important issue.

Dun-D Steven and Chip in field with dead tree.
Up close image healthy citrus tree.

Chip’s first interview took place with CEO Dundee Citrus Growers Association Steven B. Callaham in what used to be a healthy 60-year-old citrus grove. We could not get there in our vehicle so to the F150 we go! Considering this is my favorite truck I was not mad about it. When we stepped out of the truck the first thing I noticed is the devastation around me like the war zone I mentioned above. The second thing was how my sneakers just sank in the war ridden field. This would make walking kind of hazardous and that is something I truly need to avoid.

DunD bulldozer plowing down dead trees in the field.
Dun-D two piles of ashes from burnt trees in field.

Steven and Chip talked about the once healthy citrus grove, what happened to it, and how they deal with the aftermath of the war. The process itself is quite amazing. First a bulldozer comes and knocks down the skeletal trees. Once they are knocked down they are burned to the ground. It was enough to make you want to cry. My video did not do it justice, but you will see the knockdown and what remains of the trees during the episode. If the pictures look a bit foggy it’s because of the smoke lingering in the air.

I asked Steven, “What are you going to plant next?” His answer – “poles.” Honestly, this made me feel a bit embarrassed. After all we were here to see how Dundee grows citrus in indoors. I got over it and we continued onto our next destination.

Dun-D poles to support screens in new screenhouse.
DunD newly planted grapefruit tree in the new screenhouse.

We went to one of the screenhouses – you read it right screenhouses not greenhouses – but the concept is the same. If you look closely at the poles you can see they are the same distance apart. This is kind of important to maintain the groves infrastructure and to allow equipment to go around the trees without harming them.

As you can see they are beginning the planting process in this screenhouse. Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Schaal told me this particular screenhouse is approximately 10 to 11 acres and they can plant approximately 3,000 trees in one day. Fun fact: The age of the tree starts at the time of planting and the trees grow two and a half times quicker than outside groves. Hmm, I wondered if any citrus trees grow outdoors anymore. The answer is yes depending on the trees resistance to the elements and the enemy the Asian citrus psyllid.

DunD row of mature grapefruit trees in screenhouse.
DunD Chip and Steven in mature screenhouse eating red grapefruit.

Next stop a mature citrus screenhouse. I didn’t spend too much time in the first screenhouse so I didn’t notice what it felt like inside. Well I definitely felt it here. The heat and humidity were unbelievable! I left my sun hat out in the car because I didn’t think I would need it. Boy, was I wrong. Even with the filtered light you could still feel the sun pounding down on your head. I am not speaking for the entire crew, but I did wish I had my water bottle.

Like I said earlier, the trees are planted equal distances apart and you can clearly see this in the above picture. It’s really a beautiful sight. These particular trees were planted in 2020. The average citrus tree bears fruit between three and six years old. These three-year-old trees are ahead of the curve. You can tell by how much fruit they are already bearing. Fun fact: No bees are brought in to pollinate the trees. The trees can pollinate themselves. I wish I had asked more questions about that, but I was beginning to suffer from heat stroke.

Usually Chip gets to sample whatever fruit or vegetable we are focusing on, but today this was not the case. Steven made sure all of us got to sample the grapefruit. It was so delicious and juicy that I didn’t miss my water bottle anymore. Fun fact two: I always thought grapefruit came in pink and white varieties. Turns out this is not true. Grapefruit also comes in red and this is what we were sampling. Such a taste difference between red and white grapefruit. To me white is bitter tasting but this was not the case with the red one. That is one thing everyone agreed on.

Next stop the offices, packing house, and call center in Hamiliton, Fl. There was an interview between Steven and Chip in the conference room. I don’t have any pictures or information. You see, I had to leave because I kept getting in the way of the cameras. This is not the first time this has happened and I am sure it won’t be the last.

So I decided to do what I do best and left the building to take some outside pictures. Unfortunately, this did not happen either. It was mostly semi-trucks and cars, and the whole building was surrounded by a chain-link fence. I did see the main sign for the building, remember the building was fenced in, and wanted to get a picture of that. Again no success. I would have had to walk around the fence and up a busy road with no sidewalk. Totally a “No Bueno.” Back to the building I go. Believe it or not this didn’t work either because the door only opens from the inside. Thank goodness an employee was leaving or I may have been stuck outside for the rest of the shoot.

Jennifer Schall and Chip Carter sitting at a conference table discussing Dundee Citrus.
Grate of Navel Oranges, seedless Mandarins, and Ruby Red Grapefruit.

I finally got back into the building where Chip was speaking with Jennifer. They talked about Dundee products, their shipping program, and Holiday Catalog. Yes folks, you can still buy fresh Florida citrus to send to your friends and family. Sounds pretty good so far. But, the best part is the call center where a live body is actually there to help you make your selection or answer any questions. Can you imagine, helpful live bodies right there on the premises!

The above picture is one of their most popular items sold during the holidays and to our delight we were able to take it home to taste the fruit for ourselves. Believe me, the product did not disappoint.

In one of my previous Behind-The-Scenes articles, Season 4, Episode 04 Clemson Blue, I mentioned ordering Clemson Blue Cheese for all those on my Christmas list. Well I will have to revise that plan and order both.

After all, what goes better with cheese than fresh Florida citrus.