If you’re looking for an ag adventure combined with an eco-safari right here in Florida, then look no further than the Showcase of Citrus, off of U.S. 27 in Clermont.
You’ll know you’ve reached Showcase of Citrus when you see Farmer John’s Country Store (its roadside stand barn), the teepees decked out with Florida college football paraphernalia, and the great white shark statue hanging beside the pond.
In the country store, you’ll find your usual mix of in-season fruits and veggies as well as juice, local honey, and jams mixed with kitschy Elvis memorabilia.
What sets Showcase of Citrus apart from other farms is its abundance of on-site activities and its eco-safari. Visitors take their safari in a yellow and black striped monster truck SUV made from a converted school bus. One of the SUVs is said by farm owners to be the largest 4x4 ride truck in the world.
The $25 safari ($15 for kiddos) takes visitors back on the 2,500-acre cattle and citrus ranch. The farm sells the majority of its citrus (also grown in other locations in the state) to Florida’s Natural Orange Juice in Lake Wales, said owner John Arnold.
During a recent tour, guide Anthony Copeland detailed for the 15 of us on the tour how and when the farm grows citrus. The citrus facts were apparently new for the tour’s participants, who hailed from Germany, New York, Kansas and New Orleans.
Copeland tells the kids on the tour to let him know if they see any turtles, spiders, snakes, or gators. “I’ll jump off and try to catch them, seriously,” he said. We all laughed and continued with the tour — that is, until we spotted a snapping turtle in a swampy area. Copeland actually jumped off of the 12-foot high SUV and, in a scene worthy of “Swamp People” and other similar shows, he rushed into the swamp, wading knee deep in the water and almost getting stuck. He never did get the turtle, but we all were shocked — or impressed. He then whipped out his phone to show us a picture of the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake he captured during another tour.
As Copeland shared details about life on the farm, each kid on the tour got a chance to drive the SUV. We didn’t end up in any swampy areas as Copeland was by their side, helping to steer when needed.
The hour-long safari also gave us a chance to see horses, water buffalo, a zebra and watusi, which is a kind of cow that has large, heavy horns. We fed some of the animals old ears of corn. The farm plans to add other animals eventually, such as giraffes, gazelles and antelope, said Arnold.
We also got a behind-the-scenes look at some, er, unique farming practices. For instance, Showcase gets animal droppings from Disneyworld’s Animal Kingdom and Medieval Times in Orlando, and the farm uses the droppings to make fertilizer.
Back at Farmer John’s, I bought an orange juice slushy while my son munched on some sort of pre-packaged worms. Yes, worms. I don’t think the worms were produced on the farm; my son said they were crunchy and reminded him a little of popcorn.
When we weren’t snacking, we fed the goats, chickens, calves, emus and the hog right behind the farm store. Most of the animals were fenced in, but the chickens ran freely. We also perused the u-pick area, which features seasonally 15 varieties of citrus and other produce. We walked the dock of the onsite pond. Anyone can use it for catch-and-release fishing. Watch out for the alligators — both the strategically placed statues as well as any possible real ones.
Even out of season, Showcase stays busy, Arnold said. Showcase of Citrus advertises on group savings sites like Groupon and Living Social. With its close proximity to Disney and Orlando, Arnold said visitors to his farm are looking for a more affordable, interactive experience when they visit.
“People feel they’ve gotten a good value for their time and money,” Arnold said. “They can try samples, or take their shoes off and run through the grove. It’s all good.”