There's nothing more pleasant than the sweet perfume of orange blossoms filling the night air on a warm March evening, according to Bert Roper. He should know. He's a fourth generation orange grower whose ancestors settled in Florida in 1857. Bert began working the family groves in 1938, back when Central Florida was mostly cypress trees, scrub pines and lakes. World War II interrupted his farming plans so he joined the Navy, which is where Bert began thinking of new ways of farming.
With his own groves in 1962, Bert experimented with using less pesticides and fertilizer. By the 1980s he became concerned about the effects of pesticides and chemicals on his beloved Florida environment and began using natural plant foods, minerals, and seaweed. May 1995 marked the date that he stopped using pesticides altogether and since then he's been committed to certified Organic growing. His philosophy is to "treat my trees like I treat myself". Some trees are productive through their 20s, others keep producing past their 50s, and a healthy tree may even thrive into its 90s.
Since the switch to strict organic growing practices, Bert has noticed that his oranges have a higher percentage of fruit solids, and the taste is better. But most importantly, the wildlife around his groves is thriving again. Cranes and egrets wander the wetlands and he's even spied a rare Florida panther roaming the edges of the farm. Most evenings Bert greets two native alligators who swim past his front porch on Lake Butler.
Bert is getting ready now to pass the responsibility of the orchards to his son Charlie and nothing would make Charlie happier than to pass the farm to his children for an unbroken fifth generation of Roper farming.