In the previous column, I discussed Florida’s super status as a “specialty crop state,” so named because it produces a wide range of about 300 agricultural commodities each year. From an ag perspective, Florida has a lot going for it, including a climate mix from the northwestern Panhandle south to the Everglades region that allows for the year-round production of freeze-sensitive crops.
Take the delicious and refreshing watermelon, for example. While generally considered a summertime fruit, watermelon also can be planted in Florida for harvest in the winter. Florida is the only state in the country that produces watermelon from December to April.
Right now, in the middle of July’s National Watermelon Month observance, watermelon is among many newly harvested fruits and vegetables Fresh From Florida in your local supermarket and farmers market. For July, other Fresh From Florida items include avocados, lychee, passion fruit, carambola, mango, peanuts, guava, mushrooms, and longan. Remaining on the Fresh From Florida list for August are mango, peanuts, guava, mushrooms, watermelon, and longan. Rounding out the summer, the Fresh From Florida list for September gives us avocados, guava, peanuts, carambola, mushrooms, mango, watermelon, longan, and the first wave of oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit from the new citrus-harvesting season.
You might have noticed several exotic-sounding names on the summertime Fresh From Florida lists. These would include lychee, passion fruit, carambola, mango, guava, and longan. All of these are tropical fruits that are grown commercially mostly in South Florida. Here’s a little taste of information about each of them:
Passion fruit — With a very tart taste, passion fruit has a long list of health benefits, including antioxidants; flavonoids; and vitamins A, B, and C. Passion fruit juice can be used in place of lemon juice in fruit curds, smoothies, and icing. It’s also used in cocktail drinks, jellies, and mousses.
Lychee — The tropical-tasting and very sweet lychees have a short season (late May to early June). They are harvested in Florida from mid-May through July. Lychees typically are eaten fresh and sometimes are used in ice cream or processed into juice, wine, sherbet, and jelly. They’re a good source of several vitamins, minerals, and healthy antioxidants.
Longan — Longan fruit, a relative of the lychee, is extremely sweet and juicy and grows in clusters. The fruit from evergreen trees is round, with a smooth, light-brown peel. The pulp is translucent and surrounds a single, shiny brown seed in the center. In South Florida, longan fruit harvest season is from mid-July to early September, peaking in August.
Mango — Commercial production of mangoes in the United States is limited, largely due to climate requirements. Florida is the nation’s largest producer of mangoes. Studies link the sweet-tasting mangoes and their nutrients to several health benefits, including improved immunity, digestive health, and eyesight, as well as a lower risk of certain cancers.
Carambola — Carambola is best known as star fruit; slices of the fruit look like stars. A mature carambola tree can produce 200 to 400 pounds of fruit per year. Star fruit is a rich source of dietary fiber; vitamins A, C, B2, B6, and B9; and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and iron. When fully ripened, star fruit is crisp and sweet.
Guava — Native to the tropical Americas, the guava often is found growing wild and roadside in Central and South Florida. Guava is a greenish to pale orange tropical fruit with a pink juicy flesh and a strong sweet aroma. Guava fruits are very nutritious, rich in vitamins A, and C, and the seeds contain omega-3 and omega-6.
With a summertime Fresh From Florida list like this, it’s nice to know that Florida commodities are not only great to the taste but also great for our health.
BIO: Baxter Troutman is founder and chief executive officer of Labor Solutions, a staffing company with offices in Bartow, Winter Haven, Lake Wales, Arcadia, and Plant City. You also can visit his Dark Hammock Legacy Ranch online at www.DH-LR.com. A cattle rancher and citrus grower who served in the Florida House of Representatives, Troutman understands the challenges and concerns of today’s farmer.