Florida operation is not just an orange farm

CLERMONT, Fla. — Getting directions to a farm usually involves the mention of some kind of landmark, like a red barn or a church.

If you’re looking for the ShowCase of Citrus farm, the landmark is a life-sized, plastic, great white shark hanging from a rope next to a pond.

That is the first clue that this is a unique operation.

Another might be the three yellow and black camouflage monster trucks.

Or there’s the rambling, tin-roof country store that sells everything under the sun and attracts 2,000 agritourism visitors a day during peak season.

First and foremost this is a citrus farm with 500 acres of commercial production and 50 acres of U-pick trees.

No. Wait. It’s a cattle farm with 2,000 acres of pasture and 300 to 600 head of Brangus cattle.

Or is it a waste-recycling operation that takes up to six semi-loads of city waste a day, composts it and turns it into nutrient-rich fertilizer?

John Arnold likes to think of the operation as an intertwined triangle of waste management, citrus farm and agritourism.

The property has been in his family since the 1960s. Arnold became involved full-time in 1986 after graduating college.

One of the first things he did was start charging nearby cities like Tampa and Orlando and other entities such as Disney World to take their food scraps, animal waste and other compostable items.

“They have to pay to get rid of it,” he said.

And they pay well.

“We’re able to realize a significant contribution and then we’ve been able to grow much faster than we would otherwise,” said Arnold.

“We’ve used that (money) to buy more land and plant more orange groves.”

The waste is composted and turned into fertilizer that is spread across the farm’s pastures and citrus groves.

One of the parcels of land Arnold bought with the proceeds of the waste-recycling business is adjacent to Highway 27, which runs from Miami, Florida, to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

That is the spot that eventually became the farm’s retail operation.

The genesis of the retail and agritourism business was a request that Arnold received from a small group to tour the farm.

He cut the top off an Eco Van, stuck a picnic table in the back and a new business was born.

The Eco Van was replaced by a monster truck, and then another and another. A store and U-pick operation were created to sell fruit and juice direct to consumers.

One of the events Arnold hosted on the farm was a mud run. That is where he met Tara Boshell.

“I’m covered in cow (manure) and algae and mud. It’s the end of the race and I’m looking rough,” said Boshell.

That was 2012 and the couple have been together since. The blended family includes his four boys and her two girls. Their children range from 15 to 22-years-old. The boys work in the groves and the girls in the store.

Boshell is a dynamo who has put her stamp on the expanding retail side of the business.

“Definitely it is his business but I have taken over,” she said with a grin.

Boshell grew up on an apple orchard in Connecticut and moved to Florida in 1985 when her parents divorced. She was a teacher and a business owner before meeting Arnold and embarking on a new adventure.

“I absolutely love what I’m doing,” said Boshell, sporting a white cowboy hat that only comes off at bedtime and a pink, bejeweled, cowgirl shirt.

In addition to fruit and juice, the store sells homemade jams, jellies, marmalades, salsas, sauces, slushies, farm-fresh honey, vintage sodas, boiled and fried peanuts, pork rinds, sweets, alligator meat and most other things people may want to ingest.

Boshell has hired four elderly couples that each spend a couple of days a week helping out. She refers to them as her grandparents.

“Teenagers don’t really sell jams and jellies but you put a grandma in an apron and you’ve got sales that you can’t stop,” she said.

The store is packed with vintage signs and quirky items like the Zoltar fortune telling machine, a merry-go-round horse and old boat motors.

There is a play area for children, a bar area for adults and seating for about 150 people.

Boshell likes to think of it as a place where families can reconnect in the midst of a hectic Disney trip.

“Families who are on vacation can have a vacation from their vacation,” she said.

“There’s no waiting lines, you can just come and have a beer or a glass of wine.”

Or they can hop on a monster truck and take an hour-long tour of the native woodland, pastureland, swampland and groves.

Tour participants are guaranteed to see animals, whether it is the free-range cattle, snakes and alligators or the penned exotic animals including watusi, water buffalo, zebras and Texas long horns.

Arnold spends his days keeping equipment running and experimenting with the 50 or 60 varieties of oranges, tangelos and other fruit in the U-pick operation.

There is no more land to buy in the area, the store is complete and the waste-recycling business is humming along.

“I’ve pretty much refined (the farm) over 30 years to the point now we’re just kind of running it,” said Arnold.

But wait, he thinks maybe it needs some oversized board games with giant chess pieces and a playground with metal percussion instruments for kids and….

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