The best destinations have a story. They are not born from a recent developer’s visions of what a community needs. They are not made with pseudo creations of what people think the past looked like. The best destinations are real pieces of an area’s heritage, bearing familiar sights and sounds that have engaged generations of families to come back year after year. The best destinations are tried and true. We are privileged to have such a place as Mixon Fruit Farms to call our local “real deal.”
A drive to Mixon Farms tells the story of East Bradenton. Growth and infrastructure have changed the landscape so that old-timers likely marvel at the difference. Popular food chains, expansive housing developments, world class malls and development everywhere have filled in the areas surrounding Mixon Farms. But, as you make your way to the fruit farms a serene feeling of Old Florida country envelops you, and as your wheels make their way into the parking lot, once again, you are a kid.
When Janet and Dean Mixon were in the same kindergarten class in Manatee County they could not possible have dreamed they would one day be married and co-owners of the Mixon Farm dynasty. Fast forward through high school and you would find Dean in school band, while Janet was the outgoing cheerleader. Surely as she sang the daily announcements over the intercom at their school, shy Dean was not even considering Janet would one day be his partner and wife. Life would find them marrying other people, and sickness would later leave them both widowed and wondering what was going to happen in the next phase of their life. As it would turn out, a high school alumni email chain, their daughter’s shared interest in volleyball, and a love for their hometown would bring them together.
Looking around Janet Mixon’s office is like viewing her family photo album. Fun framed pictures of her family enjoying various festivities and locations light up the walls. She is quick to let you know that “Janet provides memories, not gifts” so family trips with loved ones are clearly something they do often. Hand-painted canvases and thank you notes from people are pinned here and there and a space in the corner holds her granddaughter’s comfort items while she is visiting. Janet explains that this love and closeness she feels for her family has ultimately led to the expansion of Mixon Farms. She proudly explains that the ideas of the wedding and event venue were largely brought on by her own daughter’s wedding which necessitated installing thousands of twinkling lights in the pavilion area. An old home on the property has been transformed into the perfect farmhouse inn, ready to make a wedding party’s stay memorable. As Janet attests, the home comfortably accommodates 13 as she found out firsthand when her family hunkered down there for Hurricane Irma.
Janet credits her grandchildren as the inspiration for the playground and waterslide area, complete with a large sand and climbing area made of old tires found around the farm. After all, if grandchildren were coming to stay, they needed a suitable place to play outdoors! Colorful paint, a lot of sand, and back-breaking work by her and Dean made the old wheels into something spectacular. A tram takes excited visitors back into the groves where an unexpected wildlife refuge complete with all sorts of wounded Florida animals and birds greets visitors. All the animals are released once rehabilitated. This is “Old Florida”, a snapshot in the state’s history, something kids cannot get in a video game and often don’t even learn about at school. A trip to Mixon Farms is not only fun, but truly educational. They host several school visits throughout the year, and since both Janet and Dean are from the area, a niece or nephew of theirs is usually included in the group. As for the future, Janet is encouraged a partner for their restaurant/store area, like Detweiler’s or another hometown family business might be in the works and could transform the facility into an even greater destination.
Mixon Fruit Farms has always had the foresight to know that adaptability is the key to survival. After the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, Mixon Fruit Farms and citrus farmers throughout Florida struggled with global trade laws that left their prominent citrus crops in imminent danger from companies abroad. The significance was twofold; not only were they suddenly competing against foreign companies for the world’s citrus demand, they were unfairly penalized by these competitors who were bringing their citrus to U.S. docks with harmful disease and insects that would prove to be devastating to Florida’s citrus industry. Suddenly, drastic reductions in demand brought on by year-round foreign competition and diseased citrus saw Florida’s production drop from producing two thirds of the world’s citrus consumption to less than a third. Groves and juice production facilities around the state ceased operation and the sunshine state was no longer the orange juice king. Where many companies failed, Mixon Farms used innovative ideas and their love of family to thrive.
Currently, Mixon farms is remarkable in the agricultural community in that they are growing bamboo on a portion of their lands for the first time in Florida. Seen as a viable and super protein-rich food source, bamboo is also resistant to insects. It takes three years from the time of planting to harvesting so the Mixon’s are eagerly awaiting November when the first harvest will take place. They are quickly becoming a popular wedding and event destination and a beautiful farmhouse on the property is available for rent on Airbnb. Fun events, like an arts and crafts show that will be held on July 28 are held throughout the year and always a hit with attendees. Mixon Farms can roll with the changes, always coming up with new ways to serve the community.
If you’re looking for a fun place to make memories, and one that has stood the trappings of time, take your family out to Mixon Fruit Farms. Spending a day out in nature, enjoying good old-fashioned fun at the farm, topping it off with some ice-cream—discussing the day’s events—you know these are the treasured moments you are looking to make with your family. As she proudly states, “Janet makes memories.” Let Janet and the Mixon Family show you how much fun your family can have at their farm, and how joyful making memories in the country can be. To plan your day at Mixon Fruit Farms, please click here for their website.
Photos courtesy of Mixon Fruit Farms.