crush Charles T. Brumback ’50 retires to the citrus industry
left, Charles T. Brumback ’50 and his wife, Mary, at
their grove in Arcadia, Fla. Below, Charles T. Brumback III,
Brumback’s grandson, sitting on a dead alligator, and
a gator trapper, who collects alligators that breed in the
grove. (Courtesy Charles Brumback ’50)
Next time you down a swig of Tropicana Pure Premium not-from-concentrate
orange juice, consider that Charles T. Brumback ’50’s
fruit may be in your glass. Brumback supplies the citrus giant with
Valencias from his Arcadia, Fla., grove. “Tropicana is concerned
with the ‘Brix’ — the sugar content of the fruit,”
says Brumback, who has perfected the growing of sweet, juicy oranges
over years of harvesting fruit.
Brumback’s venture into citrus is a labor of love. His romance
with the citrus industry began during his days as an economics major
at Princeton. The process of concentrating orange juice recently
had been invented to provide troops with a source of vitamin C during
World War II — and the process fascinated him. Although he
eventually went into the newspaper business, becoming the long-time
controller at the Orlando Sentinel, he grew oranges on the side.
In 1957, he bought his first citrus grove with his siblings and
helped run it for 25 years, until he moved to Chicago in 1981 to
become president and CEO of the Chicago Tribune.
“Citrus is a nice business if you enjoy being outside, watching
things grow,” Brumback says. That is the way he decided to
spend his retirement, purchasing a 1,500-acre grove in Arcadia in
2000 with one of his sons, then trading in his Chicago apartment
for a home in Sarasota, Fla., close to the crops he loves to tend.
Not that harvesting fruit has been easy. The industry is fraught
with challenges, Brumback says, including competition from orange
growers in Brazil and natural challenges, like the weather. The
2004 hurricanes cut his grapefruit crop in half when winds stripped
the trees of the heavy, immature fruit. Citrus growing “is
not for the fainthearted,” says Brumback.
Then there are the “side businesses” Brumback didn’t
expect. Alligators breed around the grove’s system of canals,
as do wild hogs, which can grow to more than 400 pounds. The pickers
he hires are understandably afraid of the interlopers, so several
times a year Brumback hires a professional gator trapper to round
them up, 10 to 20 in a catch. The trapper sells the alligator meat
to Walt Disney World for “gator bites,” fried nuggets
consumed by resort visitors. The hogs eventually end up in Texas,
where they are sold to the U.S. government as food for Third World
Yes, there’s more to growing citrus than harvesting fruit.
But when Brumback picks up an orange, examines it, slices out a
wedge, and savors its sweetness, he knows it’s all worth it.
By Bob Massey
Bob Massey is a freelance business writer and journalist in