SAN ANTONIO — Last January, Greg Gude looked upon his groves in dismay. An uncommon cold snap put the majority of groves maintained by his family's company, Kumquat Growers Inc., at risk.
The result: a loss of nearly 50 percent of the January crop and nearly 1,000 trees damaged.
"Those trees won't produce fruit for three years," Gude said. He was forced to lay off 60 employees, because he no longer had fruit for them to pick.
This year got off to a similar start. The Gude family worried about losing more trees.
"Every week, we've been staying up watching the temperature," Gude lamented. "It's really just more of a worry time for us. There's really nothing you can do."
Fate, however, smiled on the kumquats. As Gude walked into his groves expecting to see frozen fruit, he was amazed. The groves were producing more than anyone anticipated.
The kumquat tree blooms on a two-week cycle during the season (November to approximately April) which, if weather permits, allows the Gudes to pick every two to three weeks. "It's amazing," says Gude, "you think, we're done (with the season)" and after three weeks the picking commences again.
As of today, Kumquat Growers has brought back all 60 of the laidoff workers to pick in their fields. Most of their harvesters have worked in the Gudes' groves for more than 30 years and, "without them," he said, "we really wouldn't be what we are."
A large part of Kumquat Growers success is owed to a festival put on by the Dade City Chamber of Commerce. The Kumquat Festival began 14 years ago in the small courtyard of the Dade City Courthouse with a few vendors who welcomed anyone interested to visit and learn more about "the little gold gems of the citrus family."
This Saturday, the latest edition of the festival will include 300 vendors and attract more than 40,000 visitors to the streets of downtown Dade City.
The event is run entirely by volunteers and prides itself on presenting an "Old Florida" feel. Activities at the festival include arts and crafts shows, a decorating contest, a 5K race (about 3 miles) benefiting the American Cancer Society, antique cars, trucks and fire engines, wagon rides and other forms of entertainment.
"It's really an education for a lot of people, including myself," said John Moors, the new executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
Part of the educational experience involves all sorts of culinary twists on the kumquat. Visitors can expect to see kumquat pies, jams, sauces, and even kumquat tea. All the fruit comes from Kumquat Growers Inc. Greg Gude is just proud to do his part. "We take a product, we harvest it, we process it, we ship it out," and "it brings money back into Pasco County," he said.
Moors agrees. The festival is, "a good way to develop business in the area and help the business community." The ever-growing relationship between the festival and Kumquat Growers works well, he said, "because without the kumquats, it's just a festival."