Frostproof, FL – It would be difficult to find a couple more dedicated to their community than Estelle and Larry Sullivan, of Frostproof, Florida.
Larry, who grows oranges for a living, has been Frostproof’s mayor and a city councilman, and also is a former president of the local Rotary Club.
Estelle, who owns Estelle Sullivan Realty, Inc. is former president of the Chamber of Commerce, a member of the city planning commission, and the Polk County Sheriff’s Advisory Council.
When real estate was booming Estelle had eight associates working with her. But, now, after the crash only Larry and Estelle share their building and are the only members of the team.
Larry has a large map on his office wall which shows how Frostproof is located on the “backbone” of Florida – a long, fairly narrow central ridge that bisects the state east and west and offers rolling hills, a relief from the tabletop flatness of most of the state.
The day I was in their office, Estelle was working with a buyer, handing over keys and offering advice. She was born just up the road and moved to Frostproof when she and Larry married.
Larry’s father was born in Frostproof in 1908 and Larry, born in Frostproof, has lived in the community all of his life. His great concern today is “Citrus Greening,” a disease that threatens to wipe out all citrus trees in the state.
Sullivan has 200 acres of juice oranges and because of greening his production has steadily fallen every year for several years. In time the trees will lose their leaves and die.
But greening does not harm or change the fruit. So farmers do not lose their trees overnight.
The federal government has now committed $30 million to try to find a way to stop greening, and more funds will be supplied by the state, Sullivan said. It is desperately needed. So far the efforts made have not been effective.
The juice plant in Frostproof has already closed, and other juice plants have closed or are closing around the state. There are only four or five left in Florida, according to Sullivan. While the big companies such as Pepsico (Tropicana) and Coca–Cola (Minute Maid) will probably survive, the small growers, without deep pockets, who depend on their groves to make a living, probably will not make it, Sullivan adds.
In May of 2007 Cargill announced its plants in Frostproof and Avon Park would be closed, letting workers go over 18 months.
Now there is a massive white factory wall in Frostproof, an ugly eyesore, that greets visitors coming into town from the south.
The plant is currently only used for cold storage today.
Cargill, with more than 150,000 employees in 66 countries is identified as an international provider of food, agricultural and risk management products and services.
Fortunately for the Sullivans, the attractive and personable Estelle is successful at selling real estate. But their son, in his 40s, who works with his father on the farm my find himself without an income in the future.
Frostproof is seen as a city with a significant split between the “haves” and the “have nots.” That means Frostproof has far more smaller homes on scruffy lots than usually found in many communities.
These modest homes are owned by people, including those who speak Spanish, that have long worked for the farmers in their groves. They too could be seriously hurt if the greening problem is not stopped soon.