Sustainable bananas, avocados, and citrus in Montreal!

Eating local is noble, but it gets tough. Once winter hits Quebec, we’re not left with much of a local fruit offering to enjoy through the winter. Meanwhile, this is just when the citrus season is beginning down in Florida. Based on feedback from Lufavores, we’ve been working for some time to bring sustainable tropical fruits, from as local as possible farms, to the Marketplace. It started last year when Co-founder Mo went citrus hunting in Florida and met some exceptional people, who helped us bring organic citrus to Lufavores for the first time. This year, Merchandiser Claudette went back to Florida to take it a step further...

Greening is restless.

When it comes to citrus farming, greening disease has been taking an enormous toll on groves throughout Florida. Greening is a bacterial disease transmitted by an invasive pest, which stunts the growth of trees, causes fruit to be misshapen, and inhibits proper ripening. While conventional citrus farmers often resort to spraying in attempts to defeat the disease, others patiently wait for nature to figure it out. On her trip, Claudette met some of those valiant farmers who aim to overcome greening this way - sustainably, without the use of synthetic pesticides and sprays.

The citrus farmers.

On her first day, Claudette met Frank Vega who runs Norris Grove in LaBelle, Florida. Since the 1960s, the Norris Grove family has relied on sustainable farming practices to fight greening. They grow Hamlin, Valencia, and lemon oranges. At the age of 12, Frank began working in the grove and has spent his entire life caring for these trees. He’s strongly against spraying, unlike some of his neighbours, and often gets criticized when debating his stance. In Frank's experience, growing sustainably is just better for the plants. "These guys would spray once, twice a month or more and it does nothing," says Frank. Frank’s groves are affected by greening but hold up better than his conventional neighbours, and now they’re even turning to him for advice. Norris Grove will be next taken over by Frank’s kids, the third generation of citrus farmers, who proudly uphold their father's sustainable growing practices.

The mildly sweet and very juicy Hamlin oranges from Norris Grove are the first of the season in Florida.

The mildly sweet and very juicy Hamlin oranges from Norris Grove are the first of the season in Florida.

Claudette also stopped by our other Florida citrus partners: Spooner’s Citrus, Uncle Matt’s, and Eagle’s Nest Grove.

Always equipped with a brix meter, Kevin Spooner patrols his wild orchard to check on the first Rio grapefruits. He lets his groves go untamed, giving weeds and bugs the upper hand against harmful pests and diseases.

Always equipped with a brix meter, Kevin Spooner patrols his wild orchard to check on the first Rio grapefruits. He lets his groves go untamed, giving weeds and bugs the upper hand against harmful pests and diseases.

Uncle Matt’s is one of our biggest Florida partners, providing pomelos (so so good) and various orange varieties like Sunburst and Cara Cara.

Uncle Matt’s is one of our biggest Florida partners, providing pomelos (so so good) and various orange varieties like Sunburst and Cara Cara.

Eagle’s Nest Grove has been around since the 1870s, and Mary is the queen bee of organics with a serious reputation in the industry. Struggling against greening like all Florida farmers, she works tirelessly to keep her orchard going and fight the good fight to produce fantastic citrus.

Eagle’s Nest Grove has been around since the 1870s, and Mary is the queen bee of organics with a serious reputation in the industry. Struggling against greening like all Florida farmers, she works tirelessly to keep her orchard going and fight the good fight to produce fantastic citrus.

We really hope you read more about the stories of these incredible farms here and here.

A banana farmstand.

Claudette’s second day on the citrus expedition was as fruitful as her first. She located a banana farm that doesn’t even have a name! Only open on weekends, Rufino’s Bananas is one of those places that you’d never find unless you’re looking for it. Take a step behind the fence of this small family-owned farm and you’re in another world (a.k.a. Clewston, near Lake Okeechobee in south-central Florida).  Bananas, bananas, and more bananas - freshly cut from a tree, still on the stalk, and hanging for the final maturing stage from green to yellow. These fruit don’t need commercial ripening or ethylene treatment, just time and shade.

“It felt like I’d gone back in time and was finally getting to know a fruit that I've been eating my whole life,” says Claudette. Rufino, a native Cuban (and quite the character), has been growing bananas since 1975 and farming the only way he knows - sustainably, without using any synthetic sprays. On a side note, he's also not one to shy away from heated discussions on politics, but you can't argue about his bananas. Quite the personality that he is, he says it loud and clear: "Spit in my face if these aren't the best bananas you've ever tasted.” And indeed, they're the best and as-local-as-it-gets bananas we’ve ever tried.

Avocados from paradise.

Born in Germany, hardcore vegetarian Gabrielle Marewski took over an abandoned avocado farm about 15 years ago and turned it into a beautiful orchard filled with exotic fruits, dubbed Paradise Farms. She farms organically and also relies on some unique holistic farming practices like feng shui and biodynamic principles. Everything on the farm is done by hand (the seeding, the weeding, the harvesting) with much care and respect for nature. From this Florida paradise, Gabrielle sends us her organic Monroe avocados. They’re lighter in fat content and quite a bit larger than your typical avocado, more like mega-avocados. Monroes are actually the last harvest of avocado season, but they’re a first for the Marketplace!

We’re incredibly excited to be working with these farmers and getting to better understand their challenges and efforts towards sustainable production. After getting back from the trip, Claudette summed it up: “Conventional farming can be seen as doing everything to control nature, but citrus greening showed us how badly that can backfire. What stood out from this trip was how nature and farming can coexist in a wonderful way.”

Citrus season is upon us, here’s to a terrific winter!