What is in this article?:
- Uncle Matt: Meet the farmer behind your whole food supplements
- Uncle Matt on whole food supplements and commitment to organic
For orange grower Matt McLean, a partnership with a whole food supplement manufacturer happened organically.
Who: Uncle Matt
Where: Lake County, Florida
What: Organic citrus grower
You could say that Matt McLean has orange juice coursing through his veins. A fourth-generation farmer, McLean grew up in the Florida citrus business. In the 1940s, Matt’s great grandfather tended orange trees the traditional way—without synthetic pesticides or herbicides. But as chemical agriculture gained popularity across the United States, the grove transitioned into a conventional farm. Eventually, McLean’s grandfather and father expanded the operation to over 500 acres of citrus across Lake County, Florida.
McLean fondly remembers his summers working on these orange fields as a teenager. He pruned trees, helped with the harvest, and drove tractors in the humid Florida heat. “I learned a lot of great lessons working out in the grove,” says McLean. “Lessons about responsibility, hard work and a job well done.”
But growing citrus is a tough business. In 1983, the McLean orange groves were devastated by a 19-degree freeze that killed their entire crop. Lacking adequate crop insurance, McLean’s father and grandfather were forced to sell their land. They became consultants; Matt went to college.
Matt remained in the citrus industry, however. After graduating he started his own importing and exporting business, partnering with brokers that supplied Europe and Middle East-based orange juice manufacturers with raw ingredients. “Doing this, I really learned what types of fruit made up a good juice blend,” recalls McLean. One day in the late 90s, a German client asked him if he knew of any organic white grapefruit for sale. The question sparked an idea. “I asked my grandfather, is it even possible to grow organic citrus in Florida?”
McLean was inspired to return to the citrus grove to see if growing organic oranges was feasible on a profitable scale. Uncle Matt’s Organic was founded.