A Farming Tradition of Bill Green and His Sons
At 85 years-old (86 the day this article goes to print), Bill Green is optimistic about the Florida citrus industry. “If they enjoy what they are doing as much as I do, there will always be citrus in the state of Florida,” says Green.
Notice the present tense. Even into his middle 80s, Green still has the same passion he’s had since his childhood for all things green and growing. He was born and raised on a farm, and those formative years made him into the nurseryman he is today.
“When you grow up with something, you have roots,” explains Green. Those roots go deep. Along with building his company, W.E. Green and Sons, Inc., Green built a family legacy by bringing his children into the business with him, which has been owned and run by sons Gary and Scott since 1991.
“Crawling around in Dad’s nursery was a part of my childhood,” says Scott Green, one of the two sons currently operating the company. The other son, Gary Green, nods his head in agreement. A third brother, Richard, passed away from cancer in 1997.
“Dad started the business in his backyard as the W.E. Green Proprietorship,” says Green. His mother, Rachel, spent 32 years in the citrus industry, too, until her retirement. Rachel Green passed away on November 13, 2010.
“We were married in September 1944, just two months before I discharged from the Army,” says the senior Green. His tour in the 101st Airborne took him away from Florida and as far as Seoul, Korea where he patrolled the 38th Parallel along with the 8th Infantry Division.
Green eventually returned to MacDill Air Force Base, where he spent several months recovering from malaria, which he contracted during his tour of duty. The travel and the sickness were not fond memories. He wanted to get his hands back in the Florida soil, and that he did.
Shortly after returning, marrying, and discharging, Green began his home-based nursery business. One of his clients was the well-known citrus man, Harvey Bowden Snively.
“Harvey came back to me two weeks later and offered me a job. That was back when money was money,” remarked Green with a dose of country wit. “I went home to have supper with my wife, and before I could finish telling her she said, ‘Take it!’ ” Green remembers with fondness.
Green worked for Snively for about six years as nursery manager. Then Snively offered Green the chance to buy out his nurseries and Green seized the opportunity. “He was like a father to me,” recalls Green. “Harvey is the reason I have all I have.”
Within two years, Green had paid off the money borrowed to purchase the property from Snively. Since, the nursery has had several properties. The headquarters is now located in Dundee on U.S. Highway 27, where there are 52 acres of property with 18 enclosed nursery houses.
In the more than nearly 60 years of working with citrus, Green has noted many changes, but now more than ever he values the quality of Florida citrus. He recognizes the value of scientific answers and collaborative decisions about the future of the industry.
“Science can help overcome the biological challenges we have, like greening,” says Green. “Without citrus in Florida, the state has problems.”
It’s those biological risks more than anything that Green sees as problematic. “There will always be groves in Florida unless there is a (disease) tragedy,” Green predicts.
There are a couple of different ideological positions about how to start and grow hearty, quality citrus trees. The prevailing idea is that, when planting a grove, starting with a healthy young tree provides the best chance to produce good fruit. Regardless of the point of view, it’s the passion of the nurseryman and the grower that matters the most when it comes to the success of any agricultural commodity.
Green has put much of that passion into a vegetable garden, now that his sons run the company. For many years, Green has grown and canned his own vegetables, preferring them to store-bought foods, where, according to Green, “You don’t know what you’re getting.”
Going down the roads in Florida, from one end of the state to the other, there are thousands of acres of citrus groves. Chances are, in one way or another, Bill Green can tell you a story about many of them.
Through his commitment to growing God’s creation, Green has left a legacy that includes having passed down the citrus nursery to his sons, who have inherited his passion for Florida’s agriculture industry. He still enjoys the nursery, riding his tractor, and working his garden.
If you meet W.E. Green, he will likely shake your hand, look you in the eye, and tell you a good story that always goes back to the land he has loved for more than 86 years.
story by MICHAEL “JAMIE” SELF, Ph.D.
photos by PEZZIMENTI