FLORIDA TODAY Weeklies (pub 2003)
Never underestimate the power of a Florida orange--or an entire grove. That is what brought Lee and Barbara Bird to Scottsmoor from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
As the new owners of Butrico Groves in Scottsmoor, the tiny town off US 1 at the northern-most peak of Brevard, the Birds do not regret giving up their hectic lifestyle and large mountainside home to fly south and become entrepreneurs in 2000.
"We came to Florida to visit my folks in Scottsmoor and to see Virginia Tech and Clemson play in the Gator Bowl game," recalled Lee Bird, an ardent Virginia Tech fan. "We stopped for fresh fruit at Butrico Groves, noticed the 'for sale' sign on the home and business and the rest is interesting."
Bird said after he and Barbara purchased the fresh citrus to take back to their cold friends and family in Virginia, they were driving on I-95 towards Jacksonville to watch the New Year's Day game when a though came into their minds.
First, they though of the stressful careers that awaited them when they returned from vacation to their home in Bland, Va. Lee, a senior health and beauty aids buyer for a regional discount store, and Barbara, a director of obstetrics at Bluefield Regional Medical Center, both were working in Bluefield, about a 50-mile drive fro Bland. They both admitted they were under a great deal of daily pressure.
"There were many times the phone would ring day and night with a question for Barbara from the hospital," Lee Bird said. "And I was in a suit and tie behind a desk working under deadlines. I could tell you how I would fill each 30-minute increment of every day."
As they drove that three-hour stretch to the game, Lee said to his wife, "Wouldn't it be nice to just have a crop each year and not have to worry about the pressure of nursing or sales?"
At that point, he asked her to get a paper and pen and make a list of all the reasons why they should or shouldn't buy that little orange grove in Scottsmoor. "The list of pros outnumbered the cons, I'll tell you. It wasn't something we though we would really do, we were just having fun tossing it around." he said. "We were sure we actually had no intention of moving."
Lee said he and Barbara had built their home in Bland before their two daughters were born, both of whom are now on their own: one married with a family and one in college.
They've never known anything but that house. We've never even had a garage sale, so they've never given up much. When we told them we were considering selling the house they said we couldn't because it was their home and they were going to live there after we died," he said, laughing.
Upon returning to work at the medical center after the trip to Florida, Barbara had 87 e-mail messages waiting for her. The first one she opened was from the pastoral department at the center. It was the "thought for the day."
When I opened and read that message, I couldn't believe it," she said. "It read, 'Don't be afraid to go out on a limb; that's where the fruit is.' I immediately called Lee and told him. He couldn't believe it either."
The couple considered it a message--a sign perhaps. Even from God perhaps. They called Bill Butrico and told him they were considering putting their house on the market and were interested in buying his home and the business. Butrico, owner of the property and business for several decades, had undergone surgery on his neck and back and could no longer do the lifting required to operate the business.
"We came down in February that year and spent three days learning to hand pick pack, and ship fruit," recalled Lee Bird. "We wanted to know all we could about the business. We sold our home on June 27 and closed on this place July 2, 2000."
The business includes 890 navel orange trees, 114 pink seedless grapefruit trees and about 200 other varieties, including tangerines and honey bells, rendering a total of five acres. There is equipment for sorting, cleaning and waxing the fruit. The Birds pack their own fruit for shipping and have a large customer list, including many from the New England area and their home state. Area high school students do most of the picking. Lee said they take pride in their policy that all fruit is fresh when sold or packed.
"Sometimes we have neighbors show up to help us pack for a couple of hours," said Barbara Bird. "They have been so great, it's like having an extended family. And Lee's dad and stepmom are good about helping also."
Customers stopping by for fruit are greeted by Buttons and Bilbo Baggins (Bo), the couple's dogs. Lee said children especially love the friendliness of the pets and get a kick out of watching the orange-eating canines. "Of course they like oranges," he said.
Family members in Virginia say they miss their parents and siblings terribly, but can understand why they made the move. On the off months, during the summer, the couple makes the trip to Virginia several times.
"We have a grandchild now and we have to see him often," said Barbara Bird. "And, of course, they've been here to visit us."
While they miss being near their relatives, the Birds say their lives have changed for the better since the move. Their home here is a log house and there are a lot of trees surrounding the property so they have a taste of home. But there are other reasons they are happy to be here.
Lee and I have more time together." said Barbara Bird. "And neither of us is working as hard as we did."
Lee agrees and said his health has improved with his new career. "I am off blood pressure medication completely," he said. "My cholesterol is almost normal and I am much more rested. Except to attend a wedding or church, I haven't had a suit and tie on since we moved here. I don't wear a watch anymore. I don't know what the date is...I don't even know what day it is. It's great."