Big changes facing lifetime grove man

Citrus farmer John Floyd has overcome many setbacks, so he's not worried about new rules.

Published May 11, 2007

DADE CITY - Everything could be taken from him, all John Floyd has worked for since he can remember.

Things are already changing so much, what with the new state laws trying to prevent disease from taking hold of the citrus industry - second to only tourism in Florida in terms of power. All his life, Floyd has worked groves outside. Now, all nurseries have to grow their trees indoors. There's a hill on Floyd's grove where he and his wife were going to build their dream home. Instead, by the end of the year, the view they would have had from their front porch is not going to be of trees, but of huge, long, white greenhouses.

But it's okay, Floyd says. Everything will be fine.

And he's sincere. His eyes crinkle up at the corners as he smiles in that soothing, somewhat shy way he does. He said growing in the greenhouses will be different, but that's what has to be done to keep the citrus safe.

John Floyd was born with the hunger for success, the flint-edged desire only the dirt poor know; the gnawing kind that whips fire at your heels. This hunger has made millionaires and presidents. It's also driven men mad, this need that never seems filled and this fear that they'll end up where they began.

Floyd grew up one of six kids in a two-bedroom house on the west side of Dade City. His dad was a kind man, a fruit picker and World War II veteran who showed Floyd the meaning and merit of hard work. At 4 years old, Floyd was out picking fruit with him. But Floyd's dad was an alcoholic. The beer and whiskey killed him young, when Floyd was only 17. Floyd's mother, who married at 16 and never learned to read, did the best she could with what she had, which was not much at all.

Though Floyd knew he didn't want the life he was born into, he had a good childhood - they had food, a roof over their heads, shoes even if they had holes. When he wasn't working odd jobs, Floyd spent his time outdoors: fishing, hunting, roaming. He hung out at the city auction and bought and sold things for extra money. He often bought new furniture for the house well, new for them, but used. He never knew if his parents noticed or appreciated it. Maybe one old couch looks the same as another.

Hitchhiking nets a job

Floyd liked to hitchhike around town, no particular place to go, just out. One day, when he was 12, a citrus farmer picked him up and changed his life. This man asked Floyd if he wanted a job.

Buddy Triplett did bud work - which is grafting citrus trees. Floyd took to the work easily. He loved it, being out in the sun, knife in hand, the focus and rhythm of the work sweeping his mind clean of everything else clogging it. Floyd could make $300 a day doing bud work. He also learned about citrus harvesting and everything else he could about the business.

He was never into school - that wasn't going to be his path to success. He was making so much money in citrus farming that he dropped out and proposed to his girlfriend, Sabrina, who also dropped out of school. They lived in a 10- by 50-foot trailer. They had a daughter and then a son. Floyd worked sunup to sundown, trying to make his fortune.

He devoured self-help books like How to Win Friends and Influence People, Think and Grow Rich and The Magic of Thinking Big. He bartered citrus trees for a patch of land so he could start a citrus tree nursery on the outskirts of Dade City, 55 acres off a quiet dirt road, brushing up against the thick cypress and pines of the Green Swamp in Pasco County. Floyd used his self-help book skills to talk people into lending him money, since the bank wouldn't.

So this was how Floyd & Associates Inc. was born - which Floyd started with his brother, Chester, who later opted out of his half of the business.

But at the same time Floyd was so desperate to carve out a good life for himself and his family, he also was tearing it down with whiskey and drugs. Floyd was in his 20s. And he was wild. Something had to give - he couldn't keep on going like this forever.

The path that killed his father could easily kill him.

Avoiding dad's path

While trying to find good role models, he met some other businessmen who became his mentors. Many of them were religious and Floyd started reading the Bible.

Something in him just clicked.

He gave it up - all of it, the drink and the drugs and the late nights.

"I don't think I'd be alive today if I hadn't, " Floyd said. "I was on a train going really fast."

The gnawing void that sometimes never gets filled in some men, no matter how many things they have, felt full in him. He still wanted success, sure. Who doesn't? But he let go of the worries he couldn't control - the ones that can drive farmers to early graves: cold snaps, freezes, droughts, parasites, disease. He believed what the Bible told him, that God had a plan for him, a purpose, and if he kept his faith, things would always work out for the best. He felt secure and loved.

A business success

Floyd still worked hard, up at dawn, out on the grove. He built his nursery into one of the largest in Florida, shipping more than 400, 000 trees out to citrus farms each year. He branched out into niche markets - designing a fruit cocktail tree that blooms (on the same tree) lemons and limes and oranges year-round. He and Sabrina built a 3, 000-square-foot home with a pool, then downsized to the one they have now (a 2, 000-square-foot one, also with a pool).

Floyd is 48 now. He said he's not a millionaire. But he's comfortable. He wears old jeans and work boots and baseball hats and still, even though he's the boss, looks like he feels more at home outdoors than he does in his office. He and Sabrina just celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary - beating the odds that were against them, marrying so young.

He keeps posters of nature - of flowers and mountains and streams - on the far wall from his desk. Looking at them helps when worries creep in. He says they remind him of God, of how he created all things and has a plan for all things, including him, a dirt-poor cracker boy desperate for material wealth but who, in the end, got much more.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.