1940 - Peter Micheloni, Citrus Entrepenuer

1940 - Peter Micheloni, Citrus Entrepenuer

In the 1880s, oranges were being shipped to markets in wooden crates. Growers began developing their own labels in order to stand out against the other competing groves. They used their own colorful and unique labels to market their excellent tasting fruit. Those who knew the growers that produced high quality fruit could recognize it by the labels. The labels continued until shortly after World War II, when metal and wood shortages led to the invention of cardboard shipping boxes with pre-printed names. For more about the history of citrus labels, CLICK HERE!

The Lake County citrus industry was the dynamic force in Lake County for more than 100 years, There were many dedicated people involved at all levels of the industry - from those that harvested, packed, processed, and grew the crop to those that marketed and supported the industry. For many years, Lake County was the second largest producer of fruit in the state; only Polk County grew more boxes. At one time, there were more than 11 million citrus trees in the county on 140,000 acres. Peak production in 198O saw the county harvest 44 million boxes of fruit. That is over 15 billion pieces of fruit harvested by hand! That is 4 billion pounds that were transported to a facility to juice or pack the fruit. There were 26 fresh fruit packinghouses and 5 juice plants in Lake County, The industry provided jobs for 29,000 individuals and generated an economic impact of $900 million, Each acre captured 1,25 million gallons of rainfall each year. Citrus filtered 175 billion gallons of water each year to recharge the aquifer. The industry provided a substantial portion of the ad valorem tax dollars to operate the county, but required very little services. The story of the Lake County citrus industry is one of hard-working people dealing with a wide range of challenges from freezes to pests to foreign competition.

Peter Micheloni was born near the city of Venice, Italy in 1902.

As a young man, Peter Micheloni immigrated to our country in 1919. At age 17 he and his two sisters Elvira, age 12, and Linda, age 11, were sponsored by their uncle Frank Toso to come to America.

Peter later started a wholesale grocery store operation. He and his wife, Lucille, owned four 'grocery' stores in the Chicago area. These were not the typical supermarkets we know today. Back then, people would order the food they wanted and it was delivered to the customer's home by young men.

Peter Micheloni would travel to different areas in the mid-west and Florida to obtain produce for their stores. He made frequent trips to Florida. Their customers knew the produce was of high quality because it was purchased directly by Peter for his stores.

Peter's trip to Groveland started when a customer asked if Peter would use his produce truck to transport the customer's son's furniture to the Groveland Hotel, which the son had purchased. The deal was made and soon the produce truck became a moving van headed to Groveland. Peter saw the opportunity to get involved in citrus and decided to move to Groveland in the fall of 1940.

Peter started out leasing a citrus packing house in Groveland that was located at the southeast corner of Hwy 50 and South 33.

Like so many other hard-working families, Peter started small. After a few years, he was able to obtain a few acres of groves. Then he purchased the packing house and its volume grew. The citrus acreage also grew. He invested all profit back into the business. He then sold the Groveland packing house to build a larger and more modern packing house in Mascotte. He was a sound investment manager and did not assume large amount of debt. He worked hard, invested wisely, and treated employees like family. Jane Micheloni Geraci, Peter's oldest daughter, remembers packing many a box of Lake County citrus at the family facility.

Like all the other packing houses, Peter had several labels for the fruit he shipped. While they had a Grovelond label, it was not their primary one.

The most frequent label used on fruit from the Micheloni packing house was Pine lslond.
Pine Island

However, the Groveland and Richlond labels were used enough for the labels to have found their way into collections.

Two other labels used by Micheloni were Lake County and Full Moon.
Lake County
Full Moon

The Michelonis were a hardworking and savvy family that was able to establish themselves in the citrus industry. ln so doing, they provided employment for a large number of people in the Groveland/Mascotte area and enhanced the economy. Like the entire citrus industry, the Micheloni family was part of a dynamic entity that was the economic backbone of Lake County for many years.

“Peter Micheloni wanted to sell the packing house. While he, his wife, son in law and other family members were on vacation in Italy his daughter, Jane, stayed in town to run the packing house. She located and arranged for the sale of the packing house. When the family returned from Italy, Mr. Micheloni sold his packing house (real property) in Mascotte on October 1, 1965 to the Carter’s. Leonard C. Carter was a lawyer out of Lakeland. The packing house was sold in the last quarter of 1965 and there was not enough time for the Carters to develop a label so they acquired and used the same label. It was a #1 fruit label for my grandfather and for the Carter Fruit Co. This is the BEACH LAKE label that was used by Peter Micheloni and then by Carter Fruit Company.” From Anita Geraci as related to her by her mom Jane Micheloni Geraci

The Beach Lake label was also popular and was used by the Carter family, along with the Pine Island label, after they purchased the Micheloni facility in 1965.
Beach Lake

Carter Fruit Company shipped 380,000 cartons of fruit in 1971. They were one of the 16 packinghouses registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture. Carter Fruit was number 5 in the county that season in fruit shipments. The only other label that could be found was also a Micheloni one. The Carters knew the reputation that was already established for these labels so they continued to use them for their operation of the ‘former’ Micheloni packinghouse.

For more information, visit the Lake County Citrus Label Tour Website: www.HistoryofLakeCountyCitrus.com or contact John Jackson: jackson71344@yahoo.com

[Contributors: Anita Geraci, The Lake County Historical Society, Jason Brown]