Climate change has created an opportunity for farmer Joe Franklin who grows citrus fruit — in Statesboro, Georgia, of all places. As James Murdock reports in this uplifting piece at The Bitter Southerner, Franklin has discovered that his farm is a temperate sweet spot to grow several citrus varieties from Satsuma oranges to Australian finger limes (considered the “caviar of citrus.”) Temperatures are warm enough to grow fruit yet too cold to allow the invasive psyllid — that has devastated Florida citrus crops — to thrive.
Joe Franklin believed he could grow citrus in Bulloch County, Georgia, based on his own experience of climate change. Without any research-based information on growing citrus in his climate zone, he took a risk and planted his first 200 trees in 2010. Today, his grove consists of more than 6,500 trees and 53 acres of citrus production.
As we stroll down a sunny open lane, I cannot help but notice the buzz of life around us. Bees bob on wildflower heads, which fill the gaps between trees. Thrashers scratch for worms and retreat to the woodline as we pass. Grasshoppers leap, sugar ants march, beetles flitter, an ecosystem works.
The hum of this grove stands in contrast to the silence of nearby cotton fields. Cotton, like most industrial crops, requires high levels of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and herbicides, chemicals which pollute ground and surface water, expose workers to dangerous toxins, and disrupt natural habitats. Cotton, as well as other crops, requires tilling and heavy irrigation, a combination which contributes to the structural collapse and erosion of soils.
This orchard, on the other hand, provides food and shelter for life. While it might exist as a result of climate change, it may also combat warming. University of Florida researchers found that 1 acre of citrus trees consume 23.3 tons of carbon dioxide and produce 16.7 tons of oxygen per year. Biologists have identified over 159 species that live in, and depend on, grove ecosystems. Large spaces between rows allow for natural small habitats to thrive. Rather than exposing soils with constant planting and tilling, the roots of trees hold the earth together.