When most people think of pineapples, Hawaii comes to mind. But 120 years ago, Florida was the pineapple capital of the United States — and one of the largest producers in the world. From the late 1800s until about 1920, pineapple farms lined Florida’s Atlantic Coast in a narrow swath abutting the Indian River Lagoon, from Miami to just north of Vero Beach. There were additional farms on the Gulf Coast, in the center of the state and on the Florida Keys. In 1908, more than 1.1 million crates of pineapples were shipped, the state’s best year ever. If you’d like to do the math, each crate held 24 to 48 pineapples, depending on the size of the fruit.
Looking around Florida today, you’d never know that a thriving pineapple industry ever existed. In fact, if it weren’t for Nature Farms Inc., a 25-acre farm in Sebastian that’s owned and run by Mark Dellerman, there would be no commercial pineapple farming left at all.
“There are a couple of small plots around the state,” Dellerman says. “But for the last 10 to 15 years, I’m the only small commercial operation in the continental United States. It’s a forgotten art,” he explains. “But I’m a lifelong farmer; this is my way of life. I enjoy growing pineapples and serving my local community. My joy comes when people take a bite of the fruit, it drips down their shirt, and they lean forward and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s the best pineapple I’ve ever had.’”