Grove Names: Julglo Groves and Montevista Farms
Location: Lake County, Floridaz
Acreage: Julglo – 55 acres; Montevista – 175 acres
Uncle Matt’s Grower Since: 2007
Crops: Julglo has Fall-Glos, White Navels, Cara-Cara Navels, Hamlins, Red Grapefruit, and Valencias. Montevista has Ambersweets, Fall-Glos, Sunburst tangerines, Orlandos, Hamlins, Red and Pink grapefruit, Valencias
When Joshua High and Julia Johnson became organic grove owners, you could say they were coming back home.
For the first twelve years of his life, Joshua grew up in the citrus groves in Clermont, Florida where His dad worked in grove care services. His childhood was full of wonderful memories of running through the groves and smelling the orange blossoms. Not too far away, Julia lived on a little lake surrounded by groves, where she used to run and play. She, too, has fond memories of sweet-smelling orange blossoms and stopping on the side of the road and picking a fresh orange.
Both Joshua and Julia moved out of Clermont to pursue higher education. Joshua graduated from Florida Southern College with an accounting and finance degree, went on to become a CPA and work with Ryder, Inc. in the transportation and logistics world. About the same time, Julia graduated from University of Florida with a pre-law degree and went on to become a land-use attorney.
In the early 2000s, Joshua and Julia started devoting more time to citrus farming. Since 2007, Joshua and Julia’s Julglo Groves has been in organic citrus production with Montevista Farms coming on with an additional 175 certified-organic acres for the 2015-16 season.
We caught up with them during a visit with the Uncle Matt’s production team to find out more about their story.
UM: What motivated your decision to get into organic citrus farming?
Julia: I was intrigued by it as a business, but also because of the added health benefits. Being an older mom with two little kids, those health benefits were meaningful to me in being a part of the solution to today’s nutrition challenges in a win-win way. It’s a full-time effort, a full-time passion but it does have to make economic sense.
Joshua: I had been buying into the citrus industry since the early ‘80s when my father was still alive ––– acquiring and operating groves intermittently. When I moved back to Central Florida from South Florida in the early 2000s, I began to acquire more groves. Before meeting the McLeans, I was already curious about organic. If you’re going to be into the farming world, then I believe organic is a responsible growing method. Again, when you have younger ones, it can cause you to refocus in ways that you might not of otherwise thought about. So that was a motivator for us: how do you engage and engage responsibly?
UM: What is it ever a question that you would have been conventional?
Joshua: As a matter of fact, I started out conventional. And that’s all I knew when I started out back in the ‘80s.
UM: How many acres did you have back then?
Joshua: When I first started out, I had about 40 acres, but they were decimated in the freeze.
UM: After the freezes in the ‘80s, did you take a break from farming?
Joshua: I did and sold off some of those groves to developers. I got back into farming in earnest in the early 2000s.
UM: So early 2000s is when you got serious about organic as well?
Joshua: Yes, we started the transition process for Julglo Groves in 2004 and it was certified organic in 2007.
UM: Did Uncle Matt’s seek you out or did you seek them?
Joshua: We sought them. We were with a provider who did grove care and marketing for us, but the focus was conventional. When we started to look around when we decided to transition to organic, Julia’s dad mentioned the McLean family and Julia had gone to school with several McLeans and knew the family. So we contacted them and over time, as we began to convert our groves to organic, we developed the relationship we have today.
UM: How “hands-on” are you in the groves?
Joshua: We’ve ramped up our “hands-on-ness,” especially when we expanded with Montevista. We’ve been progressively active on the management side, but we also appreciate the huge role our Uncle Matt’s partnership provides on a day-to-day basis with maintenance and grove care, not to mention, marketing.
UM: What would you say is the most rewarding part of being an organic citrus grower?
Joshua: It’s become progressively rewarding. As I see the stress that’s been put on our food supply, such as the effects of pesticides and the uncertain long-term effects of GMOs, it’s rewarding to know that we’re contributing in a natural and positive way to help ensure food safety.
UM: How has the knowledge you’ve acquired as an organic grower affected your own family’s lifestyle decisions?
Joshua: We started out eating organic oranges and drinking organic orange juice, but I would say more than half of what our kids consume now is organic. Again, being around organic growers gave us additional knowledge and additional curiosity. I’ve really enjoyed sitting around and talking with Matt and Ben and Benny about organic. It gives you a real appreciation for the topic and it’s led to lifestyle changes that I think were very healthy for our family.
UM: It seems like there’s never been a more complicated time in our history just to figure out how to eat. We’re all asking the questions, “where does my food come from and what did you do to it?”
Joshua: It’s definitely “Buyer Beware.” You overlay globalization on top of that, just in terms of the sourcing of food, and you have added pressures on the food chain. It’s one thing when you go out in your backyard and pick an orange off your tree like we did growing up, but it’s another thing when your food can come from anywhere in the world. There are additional concerns about quality and safety that come along with food being sourced from such faraway places.
UM: What is the most challenging part about being an organic grower?
Joshua: The challenging part has been the learning curve of the public. We all have misconceptions about things, and I actually have run into people who might think organic is taboo. I have actually found myself in a position of dispelling myths about organic being grown in an unsanitary way, just because they don’t understand the eco-friendly growing practices. I try to educate them on organic’s healthy truths like no chemicals and no GMOs.
UM: What do you most hope for as you look across the American food landscape? And how does organic tie into that?
Joshua: Safety and high quality. Organic, by definition, eliminates concern over the effects of chemicals on our food. I believe that alone will have a positive impact on the health of our children and our families. Organic, as an industry, has a unique opportunity to lead the way in food quality, purity and safety.
UM: What are the Top 3 Organic Grocery Picks at your house?
Joshua: Leading the list is organic fruits and juices, including all types of berries. Next are milk and other dairy items, like organic yogurt. Finally, about 1/3 of all our meat is organic and we’re hoping to increase our percentage in that category.
UM: Do you think you’ll expand your growing operations in the near future?
Joshua: We’re interested in grove acquisition and venturing into other organic crops with Uncle Matt’s. We have certified-organic land avaialble right now and we are hoping to try a new project in the next 1-3 years.
UM: Finally, what do you wish people knew about Uncle Matt’s that they might not know already?
Joshua: Uncle Matt’s is a national-brand leader in organic citrus. While organic citrus is their flagship product, the brand is high-energy and growth-oriented and poised to extend their growing skills into other crops.