FORT PIERCE, Fla.—A heritage citrus grower who saw local fruit production rise in the world’s premier grapefruit region has willed a legacy gift to sustain the fruit industry he so loved.
John T. Moose left the largest individual gift that the University of Florida/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce has ever received. The $260,000 contribution comes in the same year as the center’s 75th anniversary and contributes to serve local agriculture and natural resources protection with research, Extension, and education.
“John Moose built a legacy for collaboration in Florida citrus production best practices. With this exceedingly generous gift to our programs, Mr. Moose extends that endeavor into the 21st century,” said Ronald D. Cave, Director of the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC). “We are grateful for the bequest and will use it with Mr. Moose’s mission in mind.”
The John T. Moose Endowment
In recognition of the gift, the donation is named the “John T. Moose Endowment.” The endowment will be managed by the UF Foundation in Gainesville, with disbursements from interest gained on the principal. Funds will support local agriculture, especially research for the citrus industry, which has declined in recent years in the citrus greening era, said Cave.
“The Moose Endowment will advance the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Science’s global mission to support high-value crops by improving crops grown near Fort Pierce,” said Cave. “Our scientists work tirelessly to sustain the region’s renowned grapefruit and oranges for fresh fruit.”
Cave said Indian River District grapefruit is an export commodity, a delicacy in Europe and Asia. The Indian River District is a region along the Indian River Lagoon, from Mims, in Brevard County, to northern Palm Beach County.
In Moose’s time, he came to know the district and citrus production as an expert. A native of Tennessee, Moose moved to the Treasure Coast region in 1948, following completion of a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and citrus production from UF.
Moose and the late Alto “Bud” Adams became close friends during Moose’s employment as citrus production manager at Adams Ranch in Fort Pierce, one of America’s most prominent and historical ranches.
Moose began his career in citrus production for the Michaels family in Indian River County’s coastal Orchid Island groves. From there, Moose gained expertise in the crop as his knowledge and best practices grew with increasing roles of responsibility, according to Robert Adams.
“I spent a lot of time with Johnny Moose on long drives all over Florida,” said Robert Adams. “We attended production manager meetings in places like Winter Haven to talk about production.”
Adams said Moose designed a citrus grove on a square mile of land at his ranch. Moose knew a lot about grove architecture—irrigation, bedding, how deep, and at what position to plant individual trees.
“Johnny Moose would visit about 15 groves a week in the ‘grapefruit belt,’ a common practice at the time, and make recommendations for herbicide, pesticides, and fertilizer treatments,” said Adams. “He would pluck a leaf off a tree and tell you what the tree needed in nutrients.”
“He also knew a lot about packing and finding buyers—Johnny had good judgment for markets,” Adams said.
Moose’s long and successful career included positions with Deerfield Groves, W.R. Grace Co., Fort Pierce Cooperative, Adams Ranch, and Diamond R Fertilizer. Moose was a founding member of Diamond R Fertilizer Co. He served on the boards of the Farm Bureau, Farm Credit, the Soil Conservation Service, and Ocean Spray Co., and was an alternate board member for the Indian River Citrus League.
Along with members of the Scott family, Moose grew lemons and tomatoes in the Devil’s Garden, Florida. The area is a fertile production area that was, in the early 19th century, a Seminole fruit and vegetable garden.
Moose was involved with white grapefruit exports to Japan during his tenure as president and manager of Hobe Groves in Hobe Sound, Martin County. And it was from this grove operation that John T. Moose retired in 1984.
Monumental change for industry: Sweet grapefruit
“Citrus growers had only two varieties of grapefruit when Johnny started in the citrus business, white or pink grapefruit, said Robert Adams. “Working with UF/IFAS Extension, growers and Florida nurseries, Johnny Moose promoted Ruby Red, Flame and Star Ruby grapefruit in Florida.”
Adams points to the introduction of the new varieties a “monumental leap for the industry to provide sweet grapefruit.” Like Alto and Robert Adams, Moose was an avid hunter. He joined the Adams on hunting trips in Fort Pierce and on Moose’s 500-acre cattle and citrus ranch in Kenansville, near the famous Heartbreak Hotel.
“Moose had charisma and was a likable guy,” said Robert Adams. “He was known for his passion and innovations in citrus production—and he was also an artist and craftsman.”
Robert Adams owns a gun into which Moose carved an art relief on “the gunstock,” or the wide handle shooters use to fire a weapon.
Moose’s daughter, Caroline Moose Bingham, recounts days spent on the Kenansville family ranch. “The ranch was magical—unusual stands of native trees, horse rides, and family and friends were always a part of our lives then.”
Another fond memory Bingham shares is about a ‘house on stilts’ off a canal bank in Port St. Lucie. John Moose designed and built a 3-story Moose family home with salvaged bridge pilings he planted in the ground.
“Our house was in the middle of our private 40-acre orange grove and could only be reached by a dirt jeep trail,” said Bingham. “It had crank-out windows and French doors that opened onto a wrap-around porch.”
A citrus industry promoter
Robert Adams notes Moose’s ongoing interest in new citrus cultivars and plant breeding to advance the region’s grapefruit production.
“Johnny was always seeking ways for everyone who grew citrus in our area to make more money and reach new markets,” said Adams. “Moose believed rootstock and scion breeding was our answer to disease resistance.”
In 2008, at 82, Moose passed away at the Treasure Coast Hospice in Fort Pierce.
“It’s good that Johnny Moose isn’t around to see how the local industry struggles today in the era of citrus greening,” said Robert Adams. “But the Moose Endowment will help all of us do what he would have done if he were here today,” said Adams.