Polk County, ‘heart of the citrus industry,’ is more than oranges

News 6 gets a behind-the-scenes look from picking to packing

Central Florida is known for its high-quality citrus making Florida famous for its orange juice.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Central Florida is known for its high-quality citrus making Florida famous for its orange juice.

“Polk County is the heart of the citrus industry,” Archie Ritch, President of Ridge Island Groves in Polk county said.

Ritch took News 6 behind the scenes for a look into a typical day at the groves. They start by washing loads of oranges that have been picked. The oranges are first placed on a moving line where they first get soap and rinsed on a washer bed. From the washer bed, they go to the next machine for a wax coat and then the bad oranges are handpicked out of the load before they are separated by size.

The family-owned business has been a staple in Polk county since 1992 with about six different types of oranges like Page, Red Grapefruit and Red Navels.

“Just Saturday we had some people (who) drove all the way from Tallahassee to buy a page orange. That’s a long way to go to but you can hardly find them anywhere in the state anymore,” Ritch said, adding one of the reasons is due to the citrus disease about a decade ago.

“The diseases that’s been so devastating is called HLB and we didn’t really know how to deal with the disease and we lost a lot of trees,” he said. “We learned that if we spoon feed those trees that we could keep them alive and we can help them to bear fruit and for the fruit to mature.”

Ritch, who is a native of Florida, lost hundreds of trees that have now been replanted and he planted other produce to keep his business thriving.

“People can come and they can pick peaches and blueberries in their season,” he said.

Ridge Island Groves also offers tours for anyone interested in learning about the groves, it’s a Central Florida destination that’s providing a sweet experience not only because of their oranges but also because of their orange soft serve.

"People come here and it's like the old farm market. They come and they buy their oranges and their orange juice. It's really nice to see the same people come over and over and over."

Ridge Island Groves ships to 49 states. You can order online at www.ridgeislandgroves.com