Bobby and Sharon’s grove a Pahokee landmark

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
PAHOKEE — Bobby Colvin shows a bloom on a dragon fruit plant called “Purple Haze” that’s about to open.

PAHOKEE — Bobby and Sharon Colvin have become familiar fixtures in town over their 21 years of living on a roughly 4-acre orchard/homestead on South Bacom Point Road. And they believe it was a series of blessings from God above that brought them here in 1999 and has kept them about as healthy as could be for two septugenarians.

In their private grove, they grow more than enough fruits, nuts and vegetables to keep themselves fed all year long, and their plot also supplies people far and wide in the area with fresh produce, through sales to various food stores, companies, distributors and individual visitors, and through donations to pantries and the like.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
PAHOKEE — Bobby Colvin demonstrates what he has to do to get the dragon fruit flower to set fruit. Some self-pollinate, but on this plant, the male parts are toward the bottom of the flower cup and the female part protrudes above, so he pollinates them himself.

Mr. Colvin, who turned 74 on March 24, was born, grew up and “we lived in the Winter Haven/Auburndale area, then went to Okeechobee and ran the Real Life Children’s Ranch (RLCR) for 10 years, from ’75 to ’85.” He and Sharon will celebrate 52 years of marriage on Dec. 27, 2020.

‘Real Florida Crackers’

Mrs. Colvin was born in Gainesville and said she was “raised in Miami, when it WAS Miami. We go back about three generations, both of us, real Florida Crackers!” exclaimed Sharon. Asked about their family, Mr. Colvin said: “We have four children, two by birth and two by adoption. We also have a 58-year-old foster son that we have claimed for 45 years. We have 11 legal grandchildren, and the number of great-grandchildren is currently nine.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
PAHOKEE — Beautiful jackfruit hangs out in Bobby Colvin’s garden, just ripening. They can grow as large as five-gallon buckets!

After they left the RLCR, he explained, “I started working for Scotty’s hardware stores; worked in several stores but wound up as the manager of the Clewiston store for four years. While I was there, we started a church in Okeechobee, the Bethel Assembly of God, and pastored that for eight years.

“After we left, it merged with another church, and then in ’99, we had 14 acres in Okeechobee and I had citrus — something like 30 varieties of citrus,” Mr. Colvin estimated. “All kinds of citrus!” Sharon said, laughing.
After they sold 9 of the 14 acres in 1999, they struck a deal with a citrus grove operator who was eying a property on Pine Island near Fort Myers.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
PAHOKEE — The orchard keeper examines his choc anon variety of mango, which become very long when they’re mature and are known as the “Miracle Mango,” producing two crops per year.

Worked out wonderful deal

“Somehow things had gone bankrupt but there was a crop,” Mr. Colvin recounted. “And the man had the chance to purchase just the crop. We helped — well, Sharon mainly helped him, but I helped him some, too — with the crop that summer and he saw a future there and wanted to buy it but didn’t have the money. He made us an offer on the 5 acres (in Okeechobee) so that we could buy this and give him a down payment so he could buy that, and it just so worked out that we had just sold our 9 acres so we had a down payment on this (Pahokee grove). That was in ’99; been here ever since.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
PAHOKEE — Several varieties of banana trees grow in the orchard. Here, Bobby Colvin lops the crown off of a bunch of Musa “rajapuri,” which will ripen faster because the plant then puts all its energy into the fruit.

When they first moved here, Mrs. Colvin said, “I hated it. I didn’t want to move south, I didn’t want to leave my family and I didn’t want to leave family in Okeechobee … but I just thought … ‘Pahokee?’ Really?”

But Bobby was happy in what became his favorite element over the decades — shaping a one-fruit mango grove into a cornucopia-like orchard/garden that is mostly as fruitful as a year is long.

Their blessings had names

That opportunity, as well, was another blessing from God, they believe — but Mr. Colvin noted the Lord often works in mysterious ways. The events which created his chance happened in 2004 and ’05, and they had names: Frances, Jeanne and Wilma.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
PAHOKEE — The spiky fruit shown is soursop, known for its unproven anti-cancer properties.

“When we bought this grove, there was only one kind of tree on this property, and that was a Tommy Atkins mango. They came in the early part of June, finished by the end of July, the other 10 months there was nothing. 2000 was our first crop. I sold the last mangoes about the beginning of August and, for weeks, I had people stopping wanting mangoes. I thought, ‘This is crazy! We have customers who want food and we don’t have it.’

“So the Lord helped me in another way. In 2004, we had two hurricanes. Each time we probably had about 100 trees blow over. Lost a lot of them, but many of them I cut back heavily and pulled them upright with the tractor and saved them, by faith. In 2005, there was Wilma, and Wilma was BAD.

“Between those three hurricanes, I wound up replanting about 150 trees, but when I did, I didn’t replant the Tommys; I’ve got 20 kinds of mangoes, some that come in before June and some don’t come in until August.”

Astonishing variety

So he planted a slew of mango and other trees, all in neat rows, including a few dozen varieties, plus winter vegetables, greens and herbs in his garden stretched behind the house and between the grove lines. He had to stop supplying a major shipper who had a contract with the previous grove owner under which they had to use a lot of chemical fertilizers to maintain a perfect product.

“After Wilma, we were devastated, and I just quit supplying them, and from then on 90 percent of what we do goes through the stand,” Mr. Colvin said. He works in the orchard and garden almost all day every day, Mrs. Colvin watches the stand and they communicate by cellphone when he’s out there.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
PAHOKEE — A young and loaded papaya tree in the orchard is fruiting nicely.

And now, on this property in south Pahokee, he grows 20 varieties of mangoes; seven of avocados; papayas; bananas; Atemoya (Annona); custard apples (a hybrid unique to Florida); soursop; black sapote (the chocolate pudding fruit); mulberries; longans; lychee nuts; guava; figs; Grumichama (Brazilian cherry); macadamia nuts; sapodilla; moringa; coconuts; jujube; monstera deliciosa (blackberry hurricane plant); carambola (star fruit); and jackfruit. He also grows cashews.

“Our lives revolve mainly around Christ and the church — and the crops,” Mr. Colvin said, “but I tell people that with the crops, we sell crops to make money, but God is our source.”

Some of their mango trees, in the front and side yards, are not fruiting very well this year. “There’s probably not 10 mangoes on the 20 trees you can see in this area,” he said. “It’s the first time it ever happened.” But they had to have the trees topped and trimmed last year, so that’s probably why.

No worries about crop size

He doesn’t mind. “If we have a small crop, I don’t have to work as hard pickin’ ’em! Getting to the time in life where we’re not rich but we’re OK,” Mr. Colvin said.

But he’s quick to tell you it’s not about business when asked about that.

“When we moved here, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to call it a business. I do everything on my Social Security number. Bobby and Sharon — it’s a mango grove.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
PAHOKEE — Bobby Colvin shows off a gourd called a chayote squash that he said is delicious cooked, even when green. He grows only things he likes, but this plant is a roaming vine native to Central Mexico.

“When we sell the grove, we won’t sell it as a business but just a grove.

“At 74 I’ve never done anything that I liked as much as this. But it’s getting harder. But you know, I’m the only one who works in this grove, period,” he said. He has a consistent system, through practice. He checks on the entire grove, daily.

“So literally I tell people I pick every tree every day. It’s healthy for the tree and for me, too, that’s why I can still do it at 74.

“Life is good,” he finished. That, to him, is paramount.

“The money is not the bottom line. You gotta have money to make it, but God’s been good, we’ve made an awful lot of friends and we’re known in the community.”

He experienced another blessing two days after his birthday this year. A customer asked him to dig up some potatoes, then cut some sugarcane, and he couldn’t. He was having a heart attack. “My father had his first heart attack when he was 75, and he had it when he was digging potatoes! So I told my son, when you get in your 70s, do not plant potatoes.

“Within 10 days I was out working my garden, and I actually felt better than before I had my heart attack,” said Mr. Colvin.

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