Thursday, Aug 21, 2014

Agriculture along the interstate


Published:

If you've traveled out of or into Florida by car, you may have noticed some ways that ag businesses both educate and attract passerby.

Earlier this month, my son and I traveled to Stone Mountain, Ga., or Snow Mountain, as they called it, because they had a snow tubing and a snow play area for the winter. Our eight-hour trip going north was a little rushed, but we had more time during our return visit south on Interstate 75 (hello, drivers from Michigan and Canada!) to explore signs of ag life in both Georgia and Florida.

Let me focus for a minute on Georgia. I started to see multiple yellow and green Disney-worthy billboards for something called Magnolia Plantation. What could it be? A major attraction? Something related to "Gone With the Wind"? Yes, of course we will stop.

As it turns out, Magnolia Plantation has several locations throughout the state and is basically a gas station with a large shop of tchotchkes and all things pecans. Think about the "Forrest Gump" movie line about all things shrimp, and you get the idea. We saw large bags of shelled pecans, pecan candies, pecan meal, pecan pralines, pecan clusters, pecan oil, and a few peanut products thrown in for good measure (I-75 in south Georgia also passes through some peanut country).

It's no surprise that the store sells so many pecans as Georgia is the largest U.S. producer of the nut, according to the Georgia Pecan Commission.

You'd think that we travelers would be able to resist pecan purchases just like we could resist buying the cedar boxes with wolves on them and Florida T-shirts that were for sale (yes, Florida, not Georgia), but we still bought some yummy chocolate covered pecans.

I also saw some visual "shout outs" to Georgia peaches, but since they're not in season right now, we didn't come across any for sale. I noticed that a number of the billboards for Georgia ag products included the branding logo "Georgia Grown," similar to the "Fresh from Florida" branding campaign you find on much of the Sunshine State's agriculture.

After about four hours of driving in Georgia and numerous bathroom and snack stops (including some real Southern fried chicken my son enjoyed), we reached Florida.

Florida has five Welcome Centers operated by Visit Florida, the state's tourism bureau. Most of them are located near the state border off of major interstates. We stopped at one in Jennings, Fla., where we were lured in by signs promising "Free Juice!" Sure enough, the open, modern center offered samples of orange or grapefruit juice provided by a major juice company in the state. We enjoyed the juice while perusing oodles of brochures promoting tourist attractions.

While I think of welcome centers as nifty little places for a bathroom break and to grab a few brochures, the Florida welcome centers apparently have major fans - the one in Jennings even has a Facebook following with 650 likes.

Once back on I-75, we also started to see juicy-looking billboards for the Florida Citrus Center, selling Indian River citrus. The billboards also promoted a 13-foot gator and baby gators. Now this we had to see. My expectations were slightly crushed as the only gators I saw were for sale - souvenir gator heads and one large alligator for display. However, the store did have orange and grapefruit samples to try as well as citrus bags for purchase.

The Florida Citrus Center is apparently operated by Jennings Citrus, a citrus gift shipping company; its roadside citrus centers are located in several locations in the north and

central parts of the state. The store also had the usual mix of coconut candies, Florida orange marmalades, honey, Disney T-shirts, and oddities you only seem to find when you're on road trips.

Although we didn't buy any citrus (after all, we're surrounded by it this time of year), I imagine there's a lure for visitors just arriving from colder climates who want to buy some liquid sunshine.

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