The Plant City State Farmers Market or the Packing House; date unknown. “Cowboy George” Perocchi used to take his produce to this market to sell. / Photos courtesy of floridamemory.com.
Editor’s note: This is the first half of “Life on the Farm – the Packing House”; the second half will run Oct. 5. This is Part 3 of our four-part series, “Life on the Farm – a Memory.” Dale Bliss grew up on a farm in Hillsborough County and is sharing her memories of the seasons of farm life there. Her sister Martha Grigsby contributed to this segment.
In last week’s column, the harvest was ending, so we found “Cowboy George” Perocchi, an American farmer of Italian descent and our father, loading his treasured squash onto his truck. The Ford 1-ton truck was loaded to the brim (the “brim” being the handmade wooden sideboards) with dozens of crated squashes. The truck literally carried Daddy’s and his family’s livelihood; it was yellow gold.
The goal was to deliver the produce to the local Plant City State Farmers Market Warehouse Cooperative as quickly as possible, in order to preserve the quality and freshness of the produce so that Daddy could get the highest price available for that day. The Cooperative, or “Co-op,” as it was more commonly referred to by farmers, was a building where buyers would gather to purchase the produce as it was delivered each day.
The “packing house,” which is the name my father gave the warehouse, would allow the farmers to unload their trucks and display their cargo. The buyers would make their purchases, and then either sell to local food stores or have the fresh food transported to other stores all over the state by truck or train.
Time was of the essence at the Packing House
The packing house was right next to the railroad depot, for easy loading. Timing was everything, so the squash had to be quickly unloaded into coolers to keep them from dehydrating and to avoid bruising and damage. Any blemish devalued the produce and took money from the farmer’s pocket.
Daddy would back the big truck up to a loading platform, where workers driving fork-lifts would quickly unload the crates and then carry them directly to a cooler to protect the delicate produce. (Of course, the farmer was charged a handling fee and a cooler storage fee.) My father would collect and keep his receipts for his crates of vegetables so he could get paid.
The price was set by the farmers-market higher ups – the buyers – who would gather and set a ceiling on the price that they would offer the growers. This was good for the buyers, but the farmers and my father were at their mercy. Daddy could only hope for a fair exchange.
The director of the Co-op knew my father and respected him as an honest and straightforward businessman. My father was a no-nonsense man; his word was his bond, and he never gave false promises.
Strength in numbers
My father learned quickly, and he was instrumental in the creation of the Central Florida Vegetable Growers Association. He became president so he could help the farmers get a better price for their crops and give strength to the selling power of the farmers; this was a farmer-run association.
He served as president for many years. He was very proud of that position and gave it his utmost attention. The Co-op’s members would hire a salesperson who would contact the buyers in order to get the best price for the farmers’ crops.
Next Wednesday, Oct. 7: The sisters’ version of Disney World; and two crucial “accessories” that Cowboy George always carried, and used frequently.
Dale Bliss feels blessed to be able to live on the same Plant City farm where she was born and raised. Her father, “Cowboy George” Perocchi, called Dale his “little crate-maker” because she made wooden boxes for their vegetables.