I grew up on Fort Myers Beach, with no clue what a mango tree looked like. But when I bought my first property on Pine Island, I learned. That property, next to the Adams mound, had 40 mango trees on it of all different varieties.
Mangos have a long history here on the Island, which is why we celebrate them every summer during Mango Mania. The event, which takes place July 18 and 19 this year, is probably the best place for our new residents and visitors to learn about mangos — and, of course, to eat them. (In fact, Mango Mania has gotten so popular that the Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce had to move it to a bigger location just off the Island to the German-American Club.)
According to the Lee County Extension Service some 426 acres of land in Lee County are dedicated to commercial tropical fruit farming — and 99.3 percent of those acres are located on Pine Island. Mangos account for nearly half of those acres.
The history of mangos on the Island goes back to the early 1900s, when some of the early residents started their own groves. I can’t imagine how they did it because starting a grove back in those days must have been no easy feat. The Island also hosted a thriving citrus industry, with growers shipping fruit to Fort Myers in the 1920s to the 1940s or so. There was Honc in Bokeelia, Adams in Pineland and Master’s Landing in St. James City
When I moved here back in the 1970s, organic farming was just starting to take off — it was kind of the hippie thing to do back then. Mother Earth News even did a feature on a local banana grower. Murray’s Nursery in Bokeelia was also becoming a big name throughout the south for their ability to graft different varieties of fruit. Small farms were growing a great variety of tropicals — from lychees to longans and carambola to avocados.
The next wave of farming on the Island is something we still have a lot of today — palm trees. Ed Dean at Palm Co. was probably the first to really focus on palms and eventually he was shipping them all over the world to places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Caribbean. Through the 1990s, more palm farms started popping up on the Island until the recession happened and the economy came to a screeching halt.
At the height of the market, folks were picking up lots for $50,000 to $60,000 an acre for their farms. Today, lots are back down to $15,000 to $20,000 an acre and we’re seeing new farms coming on board. Now that the economy is improving, tropicals seem to be picking up again and I’ve met quite a few clients who are moving to the Island so they can plant some of the trees that were native to their own tropical countries.
The Island’s climate makes it the perfect place to try your own hand at growing your favorite fruit trees — I experimented with things like sapote, atemoya and other fruits. It’s truly a remarkable area — I mean, you just can’t grow a banana tree in Kansas!
Learn More About Mangos During Mango Mania
- When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 18 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 19
- Where: German-American Social Club, 2101 Pine Island Road, Cape Coral
- Cost: $6 per person at the gate or $5 in advance through July 1 (purchase online at www.mangomania.net or stop in at the Chamber’s Welcome Center, 4120 Pine Island Road, Matlacha). Children younger than 10 get in free.