Jackson County Times

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mack Glass Has Satsumas…Lots of Them!

 By Bo McMullian

The Satsuma orange crop is alive and well in Jackson County. Thanks in part to an amazing modern approach to freeze protection, grower Mack Glass is now harvesting satsumas from about 600 trees in the Dry Creek community.

Once a major commodity for the county and much of the Florida Panhandle, the Satsuma crop was wiped out in the late 1930s by the Great Depression which left growers unable to afford the costs of freeze protection. As the depression continued, the value of the oranges remained too low to produce, and eventually all major groves were lost.

“Satsumas are a specialty crop; they’re not like regular oranges or tangerines,” Glass explained to the TIMES on Monday. “The Panhandle is the only place where they will grow. It’s the cold that turns them orange-colored and makes them sweet.” And sweet they are. The University of Florida’s IFAS tests Glass’ crop samples each year, he said, and he will not sell them unless the ratio is 10 parts of sugar to one part acid.

It’s an innovative system called “micro-jet irrigation” that Glass utilizes today to save the trees from hard freezes. “In 2003 on Jan. 23rd,” Glass still remembers the date, “it went down to 15 degrees in the groves and we were able to save all the trees. The system uses irrigation pipes on the ground that spray water up to four feet high into the trees.

“The running water insulates the trees from the severe temps,” Glass said, “and, most amazingly, BTUs of heat are produced when water turns to ice and that insulates the rest of the tree. The water shoots out like a fountain and freezes like when people use water hoses to create displays on trees in their yards. It’s great to see.”

Glass monitors the weather constantly and if temperatures are forecast for 25 degrees or below, he turns on the irrigation system. Last winter, that happened about six nights, he said.

The Satsumas are marketed in different ways, according to Glass. “We mostly market through fundraisers from schools, churches and civic clubs. We sell to the groups and they can sell to the consumer at a profit. This year the school systems in Jackson, Bay and Escambia counties are buying from us for their school lunch programs. Also, we have buyers in Boston and Atlanta who order them and sell, in turn, in open markets there.”

Glass is harvesting about 200 pounds of fruit per tree on his five and one-half acre grove.

Glass’ ranch and properties, Cherokee Farms on State Road 167 seven miles south of Marianna, used to be called Dry Creek Beefmasters. But he and wife Alicia got out of the purebred cattle business after 26 years in 2004 for personal reasons, he said. Her family, the Lambes, began to farm the area back in 1916.

The idea of growing Satsumas came to Glass after a meeting in 1999 held by the University of Florida and the Florida Department of Agriculture in Clearwater on the future of agriculture in the state.

“At that meeting,” Glass said, “I decided to try to find a niche for our farm for the purpose of diversity. Knowing that Satsumas had once been raised here, knowing that the soil and climate were right, and knowing about micro-jet irrigation, I researched for six months to create a business model. I ordered the trees, which were grown at a registered nursery in Dundee for 30 months, and planted 600 in March 2003. I still have 595.

“It’s a challenge,” Glass added, “but we’re enjoying the business. We’re still learning how to market, and that’s the key.”

Cherokee Satsumas Co-op

1525 Fairview Road
Marianna, Florida 32448


  1. Mr. Glass,
    I have 10 acres in Defuniak Springs and my wife and I are considering the Satsuma as our retirement income on 4 or 5 of those acres. I have a background in produce and soybeans back in the 70's. I was raised around citrus in south florida as a child. Have you started any kind of co op or are you a member of any such group in this part of the State I might get involved with ? Would you be open to talking with me and letting me benifit from your experience with satsuma growing ? I am David Watson and my email is dwatson1@panhandle.rr.com thanks for your time