LAKE PLACID, Fla. – Driving through her family’s groves, Emma Reynolds Ezell passes by row after row of trees heavy with oranges. On the brink of harvest, they outgrew her long ago. Rather than pausing to admire these thriving specimens, she stops at a tree barely two feet tall – still too young to bear fruit.
These are the trees that need her love.
“Grow, baby, grow,” Ezell says as she brushes her fingers against its leaves. “You can do it.”
Ezell, 28, is the young tree manager at Reynolds Farms in Lake Placid, Fla. Her job: grow the next generation of Florida Citrus.
A finance major in college, she hadn’t always planned to join the family business. But, with banking jobs scarce upon graduation, Ezell asked her dad for a job.
“He told me he only had manual labour,” she said. “I took it and never looked back.”
Still, transitioning from an office to the grove took some adjustment.
“I like numbers and structure and that two plus two equals four,” Ezell said. “But, sometimes, two plus two equals six when you’re in the grove.”
While Ezell turns to science for help establishing a good root system – a vital part of young tree health – the rest of her job is more of an art. Being able to assess a tree’s needs by sight or touch is something Ezell, with a little help from her dad, is still perfecting. Talking to the trees is her own touch.
Operations are a family affair. Ezell’s grandfather founded the business and today it is run by her father and aunt, with her uncle in charge of harvesting. Ezell works alongside her sister, brother and several cousins, as well.
“I come to the office and see my dad and my mom, and everybody is involved,” Ezell said. “It’s a happy place. It’s what we do and who we are.”
While Ezell didn’t initially set out for a life spent working in the grove, she has no plans to change direction now.
“I know I want to stay in the industry,” she said. “This is what I do and what I plan on doing. There’s a lot of pride in this.”
Plus, she has found a sense of peace among the trees.
“Being in the grove is a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life – listening to the wind rustle the leaves,” Ezell said. “It makes me happy to know that, even though I’m doing something that might not always be seen or felt by the average person, because of me anyone can have a glass of orange juice in the years to come.”