by MARY TOOTHMAN
Since Michaela Grace McLean was awarded the title of Miss Florida Citrus Queen earlier this year, her dance card has been filling up quickly.
The 21-year old from Clermont has had a very full schedule of late. After being named Citrus Queen March 23, she graduated from college, then moved. And now she is looking ahead to her year of representing the industry.
Becoming Miss Florida Citrus Queen was a natural turn of events for Michaela McLean. She was born and raised in citrus country and comes from a family tree of citrus. Her family owns Uncle Matt’s Organic orange juice company, based in Clermont.
The daughter of Ben and Annemarie McLean, she graduated magna cum laude from the University of Alabama with a double major in dance and public relations and a specialization in sports and entertainment communication management.
The new queen agreed to answer some questions from Central Florida Ag News about her upcoming year, and insight into the world of citrus.
Central Florida Ag News: Tell us a bit about what this role will involve.
Michaela Grace McLean: As Miss Florida Citrus, I will have the unique opportunity to represent the citrus industry on the Miss Florida stage in Lakeland from June 23 to June 29.
In addition to competing for the state title, I will travel around the state of Florida meeting numerous growers, marketers, and researchers within the industry. I will be attending different banquets, orientations, conferences, and meetings to learn more about Florida citrus.
My hope is to highlight several different growers across the state and bring attention and awareness to the citrus industry. I aspire to be a spokesperson on behalf of the citrus industry and bring awareness of citrus greening to schools this fall.
The Miss America Organization is the largest women scholarship organization and I am blessed to receive scholarships that help further my education. The money I earn through winning the title of Miss Florida Citrus will help me pursue my dream of studying abroad in Europe.
CFAN: What was it like to grow up in a citrus family?
MGM: My family roots in the Florida citrus industry run deep. As an eighth-generation Floridian, and a part of four generations of citrus growers in the family, I grew up around citrus my entire life.
My dad, Ben McLean III, holds a master’s degree in fruit crops from the University of Florida and has served as a board member of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation for the past eight years. My uncle, Matt McLean, founded Clermont-based “Uncle Matt’s Organic.”
My grandfather, Benny McLean, is a University of Florida grad as well, with an Ag Economics degree. He has been involved in all aspects of citrus production throughout his storied career, spanning over five decades.
“Papaw,” as Benny is affectionately called by his 12 grandchildren, was also named “Organic Farmer of the Year” in 2016.
For the past several years, I worked the U-Pick for McLean Family Farms in springtime, while sending out fresh organic citrus gift fruit around the holidays.
At the tender age of 18 months, I was featured on the first carton of Uncle Matt’s Organic orange juice. Two decades later, I can still be found on the back of the organic orange juice and lemonade packaging in Publix, Whole Foods, and Lucky’s Market.
CFAN: Do you have any immediate or long-term career plans?
MGM: My hope is to move to a big city and pursue a career in the performing arts or entertainment public relations. My dream is to perform on Broadway and work for The Ellen Degeneres Show.
CFAN: How about humanitarian causes?
MGM: A program close to my heart is called “Brave & Beautiful: Empowering Women to Live, Love, and Lead Courageously.”
Brave & Beautiful encourages women to develop healthy habits from the inside out while understanding the transformational significance of a purpose-driven life. The message equips women with the foundational principles to live on purpose, love without fear, and lead with a heart to serve others.
One of the outlets of Brave & Beautiful is that it is a conference for young women by young women. Brave & Beautiful launched conferences in multiple schools in Central Florida and has even made an impact internationally in Kenya as well as in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
CFAN: Do you have any specific hopes or aspirations for your time as Queen?
MGM: To help raise awareness for the need for more research funding.
Citrus is Florida’s finest feature. Growing up in a citrus family has shown me a behind-the-scenes look at all of the hard work and dedication that growers do to preserve and protect our citrus trees.
Unfortunately, the spread of greening disease has immensely affected the industry. Growers and researchers have been working to find a cure, my dad being one of them. I have seen firsthand the impact it has had on dying trees in Central Florida, and with businesses closing down.
My hope is that the public can become more aware so the industry continues to get the support that it needs through research funding.