Thursday, January 10, 2013

Building Community: Ed Anderson, by Su Zi

 A strong arts community requires both arts and community, and local arts communities will not find vitality without vitality of community overall. In dense population centers, a sense of community tends to be suppressed by the glut of bodies, of buildings; to live rural—or semi-rural—such as in Central Florida, where whole counties of formerly agrarian character have been subsumed by generic and gated communities, a sense of community involves a profound life choice, s mindful way of being. One advantage of  this life choice the ability to buy food from the people who grow it; one such person is Dr. Ed Anderson, who grows the most delicious citrus to be found anywhere. Every winter, Ed Anderson has a small sign at the gate to his grove, and folks stop in to buy a bursting full bag of navel oranges or red grapefruit for a mere five dollars.  Of this grove, Ed Anderson says, “ The grove was in existence when my wife’s people  bought the property in 1945. I think from the old story that it was a big, big grove.” Suddenly, awareness unfolds: to live somewhere is to exist as part of a community, and in doing so, one can no longer remain blind to that community’s history.

   In the case of citrus groves, Ed Anderson is a wealth of local lore; about his own grove, he says:
“ All I can say is that it was part of groves that went to Eustice [Florida} and went back up to Belleview. Back in the 1970s, they were big up in Orange Lake, but they had freezes and mishaps, so there’s not much going on. We had a freeze in ’83, another in ’84 and a killer in ’85. This grove and all the others froze all the way to Highway 50. I was told to bulldoze, but I cut ‘em off and allowed the shoots to come up, and I budded ‘em off when they were two years old. It took five or six years before it produced anything. Trees gotta grow. I decided not to spend on spray. I feel that the oranges are not as pretty, but everybody tells me they are the best oranges they ever had.”  

The area where Ed Anderson sells his fruit is  sheltered by an enormous, regal live oak tree—one too rarely  seen anymore. Of the tree, Doc says that someone came from the University of Florida and dated the tree’s age to about 350 years. Ed Anderson seems comfortable with the folks who come, who buy oranges,  who chat awhile. It turns out that Ed Anderson, now a retired dentist, also served in his community as a member of the school board at a tempestuous time:
   “ The day we went in to raise your right hand followed up with the teacher’s strike that started right then [1968].I was always on the teacher’s side and knew they weren’t adequately paid. In those days, it was hard to look a teacher in the eye and  hand ‘em their paycheck…it was embarrassing what they were paid.” The Florida teacher’s strike of the late 1960s is an erased bit of local, as well as national history; Florida subsequently will now fire any striking teacher. Ed’s view of that time also includes the civil rights struggles: “The main thing we accomplished is that we agreed to go along with the federal demand to integrate the schools. We were the second county in the state to do it, and it became the end of my political career.”

    Ed’s awareness of community, of its history, is tinged with a certain sorrow : “ Marion County could have been one of the highlights of the state, but I think development has taken over.” He reflects for a moment, and then says , “Basically, I think that we should develop in this county access for all citizens rather than just certain power structures. The power structures are selfish; they want to make money and develop the state and not wisely, not wisely.”  While Ed Anderson speaks of his fifty year experience in this local community, it is likely that his words would have resonance in any formerly rural area. 

    Saying “the grove was a community organization”, Ed Anderson reflects on corporate growers: “They spend a lot of time and money spraying so they [the oranges] will be pretty when they come off the tree. A pretty orange is not an opening to the best orange.” Ed Anderson’s oranges are “sold right off my own property”, and he well remembers “orange groves all over the place”. Ed speaks to the year round work required, and says “people come in here with a smile”.  While a few bags of oranges might not revolutionize the lifestyle of an individual, the choice to purchase directly from the grower initiates a mindfulness that leads to not only better individual health, but better economic health in one’s own community. Ed’s oranges are not sprayed with substances banned in this country a generation ago—as is the case for many imported produce species. Additionally, to taste Ed’s oranges—to taste produce that’s actually grown and ripe when picked is an exquisite experience, one Ed Anderson, himself, acknowledges: “The fruit speaks for itself. People come in here because of the goodness of the fruit.” Yes, a sweet truth most certainly.

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