Ridge Island Groves
If you’re looking for an authentic Central Florida experience, look no further than Ridge Island Groves in Haines City. They’ve got a citrus packing plant, 8-10 varieties of fruit, a hydroponic garden, chickens and a gift shop that carries an incredible amount of gator heads (it’s a Florida thing). Oh, and the creamiest, dreamiest ice cream you’ll ever put in your mouth.
Like most amazing things you encounter in your travels, Ridge Island Groves is a little off of the beaten path, but it’s by no means a secret. There were already 10 cars in the parking lot when we arrived, and not a single one had a Florida tag, aside from ours, of course.
It didn’t take us long to realize why so many people visit Ridge Island Groves…
1.) The Scent of Orange Blossoms in the Air
Best.Scent.Ever. No other explanation is necessary.
2.) Archie Ritch & the Ridge Island Groves Family
If you run into someone wearing a Ridge Island Groves shirt, there is a good chance they are a Ritch. They are some of the nicest, hard-working and knowledgeable people we have ever met, and in my humble opinion, what took our visit from great to fantastic.
3.) The Citrus Packing Plant and “Ugly Orange” O.J.
We got to see where Ridge Island Groves’ citrus gets washed, waxed and sorted, before it circles the globe, and you can, too. The plant is purposefully wide open, so you get a great view of the whole process. Citrus is sorted by size, and all of the “ugly” ones find their way to the juicer.
Speaking of juice, holy wow. It was so good. This is probably due in part to their special recipe, which is created by combining the juice from whichever citrus varieties are in season at that time. I guess that makes it more of a science project than a recipe, but it’s delicious nonetheless.
4.) The Tour de Grove
Once you’ve seen all of the behind-the-scenes stuff and restored your Vitamin C stores with the best O.J. ever, it’s time for an adventure. For $8.00, you get a down-to-earth golf cart tour of their Florida orange groves. This includes a stop where you get to pick your very own fresh from Florida orange! Our guide was knowledgable and friendly. We learned all about the different citrus varieties in the grove and the art of picking an orange.
“We had oranges sent back home to the kids. The girl who waited on us was very friendly and helpful and the kids had great reviews about the taste and quality.”
If you’re feeling generous, or just want to secure your title as best: grandparent, parent or friend, Ridge Island Groves will ship citrus in a gift box, and send them to lucky friends and family back home.
We don’t know about you, but we're of the opinion that an edible souvenir, is
the best souvenir. (Hopefully my friends and family are reading this).
Did we mention that all of their produce is grown pesticide-free? Like we said, they’re the real deal.
Oranges aren’t the only fruit “U” can pick at Ridge Island Groves. They also have Florida peaches, strawberries and blueberries.
6.) Pastured Poultry
Ridge Island Groves is one of the few places we know of in Polk County where locals can purchase pasture raised, antibiotic free chickens (let us know if you know of others). Their White Cornish Rock Cross Broilers actually see sunlight, eat bugs and forage for food in unique pens called chicken tractors. These pens are moved 12 feet to fresh pasture every day, so the grass is not overloaded with nitrogen, and the chickens get a fresh salad and more bugs.
Ridge Island processes their meat chickens every 6-7 weeks, and each chicken yields anywhere from 3-5 pounds of meat that is superior in taste and nutritional value, compared to chickens raised in unnatural, stressful conditions.
They also carry laying hens for those interested in free-range eggs.
7.) The Hydroponics
Many of the non-citrus fruit varieties at Ridge Island Groves are now being grown using hydroponics. They even sell the kits, if you’re interested in trying your hand at this gardening method.
8.) Creamy, Dreamy Ice Cream
You can’t leave Ridge Island Grove without trying their peach or orange ice cream. It’s so good, and the perfect way to end the day.
9.) The Gift Shop
If you plan to eat the oranges you picked instead of sending them back to friends and family, you can always pick them up some honey, spread, jelly, marmalade, or – and this is the most authentic of all Florida souvenirs – a gator head. And everyone knows the truest sign that you have found yourself in a place worth visiting is when they sell “been there, done that t-shirts,” so make sure you snag a “I picked an orange at Ridge Island Groves” t-shirt for yourself or a loved one.
Now it’s your turn to go and experience a true Florida grove. Orange you glad we told you about Ridge Island Groves?