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• With their comparatively small acreage, the Ericksons choose not to compete with the area’s traditional crops. Rather, they stick to higher value, intensive management crops and personally handle the marketing.
• Their plan succeeds well enough that the family’s fourth generation of south Florida farmers now works enthusiastically on the land, sticking with it through ruinous hurricanes, droughts and whatever else Mother Nature throws at them.
THE ERICKSONS, Kim, Dale, and Krista, in one of their Canal Point, Fla., groves.
“All of that raises awareness, and that’s good,” he says. “There is a lot of potential for new mango uses — look at all the different fruit-flavored drinks we’re seeing now. We even see mangoes showing up on the Food Network.
“It’s a matter of awareness and getting people to try them. That’s why I’m an advocate for improving the quality of mango imports, if we hold the imports to the same food safety standards that we U.S. producers have to deal with. Get the fruit tasting good, then take them into stores and give them out free to familiarize people with mangoes.
“Different varieties have different tastes, but most people don’t know that. American consumers are starting to learn that certain things have flavor. It’s the beginning of a trend. Of course, we believe strongly that our mangoes have the best taste.”
The Ericksons are working to develop value-added mango products. Kim is experimenting with mango preserves and jams, and recently sold some.
“We want something we can sell in the off season,” she says. “It’s a way to get rid of the aesthetically ugly fruit that would be difficult to sell at retail, but otherwise has nothing wrong. At times of the year we have too many mangoes, so we’re looking for ways to extend the season.”
Frozen mangoes have potential, as well, Kim says. “A mango can be used for anything you can use a peach for. I eat more frozen mangoes than fresh ones — chop them up, throw them in the freezer, and you can eat them year-round.”
Of course, growing great-tasting fruit that originated in far-off places can be easier than selling it. Marketing is where the Ericksons excel, moving their products to some unusual buyers far from sunny south Florida. Their biggest wholesale customers are in New York and Chicago. The consumers in New York are mostly Asian, those in Chicago predominately Hindu. A Miami distributor also moves some of their fruit and vegetables.
“We’ve been very fortunate with markets,” Kim says. “Some wholesale clients have been our customers for decades and some, really, for my entire life.
“They’ve become friends, and they come down here and visit us. They have family businesses — they’re cool. We never worry about payment; we work out a price prior to growing the product. We know what they want us to grow. They want quality, and they want it fresh, and that’s what we give them.”
Transportation is key to shipping quality products. A truck picks up the Ericksons’ products at 1 a.m. and pulls into Chicago about a day and a half later. We have an awesome trucker,” Krista says. “He’s a friend now, too; he understands what we need to do.”
For several years, curry leaves bought by Hindus were the Ericksons’ second biggest moneymaker, right behind mangoes. They moved as much as 350 pounds of curry leaves weekly to Chicago, New York and Atlanta. But after citrus greening disease hit the state’s orange and grapefruit groves, out-of-state shipments of curry leaves were halted due to the possibility of their carrying the disease.
“This was really disappointing because curry was quite a sustaining part of our income,” Kim says. “We still have quite a bit of curry. We’re just waiting to see what happens. We don’t want to pull it all out.”
They also sell paan leaves to Indian and Southeast Asian markets. It is touted as a palate cleanser, breath freshener and digestive aid, often chewed at ceremonies.
“A lot of older people use paan as a spice,” Kim says. “They crave it, almost. The older generation has to have it — they buy it to use in festivals.”