John Smoak III
Lake Placid Citrus Cooperative
- John, Jr., Gunner, and John III on one of the family's tractors. Using modern technology, they are able to ensure the most effective and eco-friendly practices in the groves.
- John Smoak III takes his time through the groves, looking out for any sign of greening or canker. He is dedicated to keeping the quality of his fruit to its highest standard.
- Gunner and John III hanging out in the groves. If Gunner goes into the family business, he would be the fourth generation in his family of citrus growers.
It's believed the true testament to the character of a grower isn't what he does in times of prosperity, but rather, the decisions he makes in times of trial and loss. No one understands that better than John Smoak III, who grew up to share a leadership role with his cousin, Mason Smoak, in the operation of Smoak Groves, Inc. John's character, and that of his entire family, never showed more strength and resilience than in June 2008, when Mason tragically died in a plane crash.
While the Smoaks will never forget the loss of such a loved family member, they are determined to carry on in his name. John believes it's a matter of staying positive. "It was obviously a huge loss for our family, and for the family business as well," he says. "We've learned, though, that when it's really good or really bad, it's not that way for very long. We just have to try to keep moving forward." Doing so means holding on to the traditions and integrity they've carried through three generations of growing.
John's grandfather started their groves after moving to Florida from south Georgia in the 1930s. From an early age, he instilled a strong work ethic in his sons John Jr. and Edward, and later in his grandsons. John Jr. recalls a sense that his father had the vision of imparting the business to his sons from the moment he started it. He recalls Edward and himself sitting through business meetings even as teenagers. "Not that we wanted to be in meetings. But I think some of it sunk in. He let us make mistakes, and we learned that way."
John Jr. followed his father's example when transitioning his own son to a larger role with the company.
To become the current head of operations and play a key role in the Lake Placid Citrus Cooperative, John III says he learned most of what he knows about citrus from his father and his uncle Edward, as well as other colleagues in the industry. His approach to growing is to tackle its three basic issues: nutrition for the trees, pest and disease control, and weed control.
He concedes his biggest challenge is guarding the health of the trees from pests and disease, an issue that is constantly changing but never completely diminishes. Their business participates in numerous land-grant studies with the University of Florida to develop solutions for the region's recent greening epidemic. It's an issue on which they remain vigilant.
Environmental protection is another key issue that John says the cooperative always keeps in mind. "Our philosophy is that we are blessed to be able to farm on the land, so we have a responsibility to take care of it," he says. They continue to adopt more efficient technology to eliminate waste in their plant-nutrition processes. They've converted their irrigation system to microsprinklers at the bases of the trees, saving enormous amounts of water each year. His family also participated in a ground water study that monitors the fertilization impact of nitrates, and helped develop a set of Best Management Practices that are more economically viable for the growers and lessen the impact of the amendments to the soil.
All their efforts result in something he and his cousin were strong proponents of — a consumer confidence in a healthy, natural orange juiceIs Your Juice Imported?
Find out where your juice comes from. that's not imported, but made in an environment that's taken care of and held to a higher standard than anywhere else in the world.
As he forges a new future for their business, John continues to pull from his family's strong foundation of values. In true character, he remains poised and honest when he says, "I've been blessed to work in this industry and with the wonderful people in it."