Grove Location: SE Lake County in between Clermont and Winter Garden
Uncle Matt’s Grower Since: 2004
Crops: Hamlin (Dec/Jan/Feb), Valencia (April/May), and Red Grapefruit
Acreage: 100 acres
Since the 1930’s, Grandpa Joseph Eddy owned what is now called the “Eddy Grove” in South Lake County, Florida. He grew his own rootstock and tilled the land himself. His son, George, married Mary [getting maiden name] in 1946. In 1959, George and Mary moved to a house at the bottom of the grove to help run the farm.
In 1974, Grandpa Joseph passed away and George and Mary took over the land as the main farm managers. When George unexpectedly passed away a year later, Mary retired from a 30-year career as a schoolteacher and carried on the grove with the help of her son, George Jr. Together, mother and son have now been involved in the hands-on management of the grove for over three decades.
Uncle Matt’s recently interviewed Mrs. Eddy at her home nestled on John’s Lake adjacent to her 100-acre grove. Right before sitting down for the interview, Mrs. Eddy was busy in the kitchen making a new batch of homemade organic kefir. The dry kefir had come in FedEx from a Mennonite family in Ohio.
The kitchen scene is a fitting glimpse into the life of this unassuming yet amazing woman and her love for living healthy. At 85-years-young, Mary Eddy resides at her own house, oversees her groves, works out three times a week and takes vitamins. Her hobbies include driving a tractor and decorative woodworking in her shop — where she still knows how to use a drill press and band saw.
UM: We’ve been told Eddy Grove is something of a survival story in an industry that literally moved south. Tell us about why you’re still here.
Mrs. Eddy: There were freezes in the sixties, and in ’83 and ’85. But in ’89, there were three days that were below freezing continuously.
UM: What did that mean for the grove?
Mrs. Eddy: Everything… pretty much…died.
UM: So, not just the fruit but the trees as well?
Mrs. Eddy: Yes. We were pulling up trees and burning [them].
UM: After ’89 freeze, were you questioning whether or not you would replant since, at that point, much of citrus industry was moving south to avoid further damaging freezes?
Mrs. Eddy: There was no question: we would replant.
UM: Wow. Even when so many others gave up?
Mrs. Eddy: A lot of people did [give up]. But Grandpa had this vision of keeping the grove going and this was his land. I was determined to replant the grove. So we pushed up the trees, burned them and replanted new ones.
UM: So when did Uncle Matt’s enter the picture?
Mrs. Eddy: About six years ago, Uncle Matt’s came and talked to us about converting our grove to organic. At that time, I had already been gravitating toward a healthier lifestyle through vitamins and eating natural and organic foods. So, when Uncle Matt’s approached me about turning our grove organic, it made a lot of sense to me.
UM: Had you always been organically inclined?
Mrs. Eddy: The last 30 or so years for sure. Especially after encountering some medical problems.
UM: Why did you feel that the homeopathic/organic route was the way to go?
Mrs. Eddy: Because the doctors don’t have the answers. Actually, I began to educate myself by going to lectures, visiting doctors and reading a lot.
UM: Since you’ve adopted a more organic lifestyle, how has it affected your health?
Mrs. Eddy: I have benefited very much so. At my age, which is 85, I see other people in [nursing] homes in their seventies and early eighties, and they’re just not doing anything. I’m able to get up and go. Until just a little bit ago, when George and Nathaniel [grandson] said “No more mowing” [the grove], I was doing the mowing! I like to mow!
UM: So you were mowing till what age?
Mrs. Eddy: Just up until a year ago. That’d be 84.
UM: How has the relationship with Uncle Matt’s benefited your grove?
Mrs. Eddy: We are so pleased with Uncle Matt’s. I remember Block 3 valencias were going downhill and hardly producing. It was because the trees had gotten Apopka Root Weevil. They told us how to naturally and organically get rid of them. Here we are three years later, and the block has really come back and is doing well. So, Uncle Matt’s is up-on-the-know when it comes to growing as well. While groves around me are sad-looking and dying, mine is flourishing under Uncle Matt’s organic program.