By Hillary Hyslope
As Americans, we are blessed with access to an abundant and safe food supply, which is the result of farming, harvesting, processing, and shipping practices that have been refined over generations.
Many of those living on Florida’s Gulf Coast do not realize that approximately 60 miles to the east is one of the largest and most productive agriculture production centers east of the Mississippi. With enough produce, fruit, sugarcane, rice and other crops to feed nearly 170 million Americans during the winter months, the Everglades Agricultural Area is Florida’s proverbial “breadbasket “and a destination for agritourism to many Southwest Floridians.
As the Executive Director of the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce, our organization is proud to partner with companies like U.S. Sugar to help reconnect Southwest Florida residents to agriculture through our Raisin’ Cane Tours.
Every year, these tours bring approximately 6,000 people to Clewiston from places like Naples, Ft. Myers, West Palm Beach and Stuart.
The product of a collaborative partnership between the Florida Sugarcane League and the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce, Raisin’ Cane Tours allows groups of Floridians to see a slice of “Old Florida” in our rural community while viewing how sugarcane is grown, harvested and refined, producing nearly 800,000 tons of refined sugar annually. But it doesn’t stop there.
While on tour, groups take a turn through Southern Gardens Citrus, a wholly owned subsidiary of U.S. Sugar, where 250 million glasses of pure Florida orange juice are produced each year.
The tours are available to groups in Southwest Florida looking to visit the local farms and fields and see first-hand how farmers work hard every day to feed America’s families while also serving as careful stewards of their land.
Tour participants are often surprised to find that the well known agribusiness is home to many who come from long lines of farmers, working the same land that their parents and grandparents once worked.
While visiting a sugarcane farm, the tour makes its way by one of the U.S. Sugar’s field pump stations. Here, popular misconceptions regarding water in the Everglades Agricultural Area are addressed as visitors are shown first-hand, the technology, time and effort that farmers invest to ensure sustainability.
They also receive information regarding Best Management Practices, which have proven to be an effective tool in the restoration of Florida’s Everglades.
To date, sugarcane farmers have contributed nearly $450 million in taxes, research and a world-class on-farm clean-up program that is helping to aid in Everglades restoration.
Today, every drop of water that leaves Everglades Agricultural Area farms is cleaned and farmers have more than doubled the required 25 percent annual reduction in phosphorus – having achieved a 57 percent average annual reduction since the program began in 1996.
After visiting a sugarcane farm and seeing Auto Steer harvesters at work, the next stop on the itinerary is a scenic drive through historical Clewiston where local history is revealed before arriving at Lake Okeechobee, a world-renowned fishery and the liquid heart of America’s Everglades.
Finally, the tour takes its charges to the mill and refinery where sugarcane is processed into refined sugar. The plant is run completely on green energy derived from bagasse, which is the dry, pulpy residue of the sugarcane extraction process.
In addition to powering the milling and refining process that produces it, this natural biofuel produces enough surplus energy to power more than 25,000 homes every year.
Whether you are a native Floridian, a snowbird, or a permanent transplant from colder climates, Raisin’ Cane Tours show Florida farming at its best.
Out here in the Glades, we are proud to be American farmers raising food for American families, and we have been doing it for generations.
As you will see when you come to “America’s Sweetest Town,” the land is our livelihood, and you’d be hard pressed to find another group that treats it with as much care and consideration as the dedicated individuals you will meet through Raisin’ Cane Tours.
For more information about scheduling a tour, please contact the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce at (863) 983-7979 or online at https://www.clewistonchamber.com.