By G.B. Crawford
In 1888 the celebrated poet Walt Whitman scribbled a few lines about a wintertime treat.
“To my plain Northern hut, in outside clouds and snow, brought safely for a thousand miles,” Whitman wrote, “now here their sweetness through my room unfolding, a bunch of orange buds by mail from Florida.”
The Lingle family makes sure distant households continue to receive fresh citrus nearly a century and a half after Sunshine State growers first began regularly shipping fruit each season. They have also sold fresh fruit, juice and other products to local residents at their retail store in Maitland for more than 65 years.
Blessed with a thriving retail trade, the store attracts customers from across central Florida. The steady creep of the Orlando behemoth surrounding it has only added to its rustic charm and its appeal as a traditional family business.
Known as Hollieanna Groves, the enterprise specializes in selling fruit grown from the family’s own trees. Harvested fruit is transported to a small, frame packinghouse located within the same building that houses the storefront, then shipped out in gift packs or presented for walk-in purchases.
Glenn Lingle, the family’s patriarch, founded Hollieanna in 1954 by purchasing an existing store and gift fruit operation from another couple with whom he had previously joined as a partner. He borrowed the couple’s first names, Hollie and Anna (Oakley), to create an identity for his venture.
His three children, Jason, Alinda and Kurt, now manage the business and work in various parts of it. Kurt, the grove manager, has been busy at some dimension of Hollieanna since he was in the first grade. Jason splits time between the grove and the packinghouse. Alinda acts as the customer service representative, among a host of other duties. All three of them are dedicated to preserving their father’s legacy as a successful citrus entrepreneur.
A general sense of nostalgia can easily well up in a visitor at the store because of the physical texture of the place. “We have kept the business basically the same way it was back then,” Jason said. “The whole thing is the original building with the original showroom.”
This feature is apparent in the equipment they use. Regular repair and reconstruction of these items keep them running in good order. “We have an original FMC (juice extractor) made in Lakeland,” he pointed out. “Even some of the three-phase motors in the packinghouse are originals.”
His sister, Alinda, explained that the siblings have an emotional bond with their livelihood. “I think for us it’s not so much a career, but a way of life,” she said. “We are very attached to it – attached to the name and the image that we provide folks in the community with what we do.
“Both of my brothers are very focused on the growing end of it and whether the fruit is going to taste good. It’s personal with them. They truly are farmers.”
Customer service is also priority. Distant consumers who place orders by telephone can talk directly with one of the Lingles. “When they call in, they get a live person and they don’t have to wait for an automated process,” Alinda noted. “That makes a difference.”
Walk-ins can also expect to meet with the people who grew the spectacular array of citrus they see in the bins. To meet an authentic farmer is an educational experience for many Floridians.
“If we can start a dialogue with consumers and get them in the door, we enjoy doing that,” Alinda pointed out. “We are the real deal. Customers like to look at the back door and see the fruit. Building these types of relationships is what has kept us going.”
“I think we get too wrapped up in technology. We have a tendency to forget where everything starts. There is a lot of hard work and time on the tree before you get a ripe piece of fruit in the store.”
The combination of the comfortable ambience of the store, the family’s commitment to selling an excellent product and their attention to customer care has won loyal patrons. In a Facebook comment Janet Maldonado wrote, “I have been shipping deluxe packages to my family in Michigan and New York for over 20 years.” The packages are their “favorite Christmas gift.”
Nick Parsons described the retail store as the “Best place in central Florida to get the sweetest, most down-home fresh citrus experience.”
Unlike many other Florida citrus growers, the Lingles did not suffer serious damage from Hurricane Irma because the storm skirted their groves. But citrus greening disease has cut their fruit production by nearly 80 percent since the beginning of this century.
Jason expects that stable citrus harvests will return in the future. “But with citrus greening,” he added, “I would say we have five or six hard years left. What’s really going to happen is still unknown.”
Despite the challenges, the Lingles continue to produce and sell the orange buds that delight consumers today as much as they did in Walt Whitman’s lifetime.
For more information about the family operation, visit http://www.hollieanna.com/.
G.B. Crawford is director of public relations for the Florida Farm Bureau.