Florida Stories

Pineapples

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Pineapples may be associated with Hawaii for most Americans, but in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Florida has a booming pineapple industry. Early pioneer crops in Florida were probably started with cuttings from pineapples grown in the Bahamas. The first crops in Florida were planted in the 1860s on Plantation Key and Merritt’s Island. Shipping to the North began in 1879.

Prior to the devastating freezes of 1894-95, central Florida seemed an ideal location for pineapple farms. The winters were especially mild and growers related they didn't even need sheds to protect the plants, were produced exceptionally large fruits that sold at premium prices. Add in the fact that pineapples start producing in two years, compared with five for citrus crops, and pineapples indeed seemed the "golden" fruit. At the turn of the century, about 200 acres were given to pineapple production with a yield of about $4000 an acres gross possible. Many citrus growers' double-cropped, planting pineapples in the rows between citrus trees in their groves.

Indian River, now famous for its grapefruit, quickly became the pineapple growing mecca. Pineapple farms, or pineries, also flourished in the Keys. According to A Handbook of Florida by Charles Norton, some of the finest pineapple plantations in Indian River were located in Eden near Jupiter Inlet. In the early to mid-1890s, Florida was the world’s largest exporter of pineapples. In 1910 there were about 5,000 to 10,000 acres of pineapple fields in south Florida. The 1908-09 crop yield was 1,110,547 crates.

By World War I, the pineapple industry began to decline. Growing competition from Cuba and the new Republic of Hawaii drove down prices and ate into growers’ profits. The industry was further crippled by freezes in 1917 and 1918. By 1930, only the United Fruit Company still grew pineapples on a large scale. Today, the company still has a small plantation in Sebring.

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