Winter struck Athens this December with a strong, bitter cold. Farmers have finished their harvest, snow blanketing the fields that were abundant with fruits and vegetables just weeks prior. Even the residents of Athens already seem a few shades paler, avoiding the bleak, frosted outdoors. 

However, Dan Kittrel of Fort Pierce, Florida, makes sure to bring a splash of Vitamin C to the Midwest each year by selling boxes of fresh oranges, tangerines, grapefruits and more.

“We sell fresh citrus…from our Florida groves in Fort Pierce, Florida.” Kittrel, the owner of Indian River Direct, said in a phone call as he drove the orange truck to its next stop. 

Kittrel said farmers from Florida were looking for a way to get the public interested in their product directly. Ohio was the perfect target market for citrus sales, the harsh, prolonged winter depriving Ohioans of the fresh citrus Floridians enjoy nearly year-round.

Kittrel now works in a small operation with about four other employees, contract-carrying citrus up from sunny Florida to be distributed from November to March in more than fifty locations across Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

“Navel oranges, tangerines, ruby red grapefruit, honey tangelos,” Johnny Norvell of Fort Pierce, Florida listed what was on the day’s menu as he moved boxes of citrus toward the front of the truck for sales. “And pecans, we also have shelled pecans.” 

Sometimes, Indian River Direct will even sell fresh blueberries alongside their Florida seedless tangerines, honeybells, sugar belles and temple oranges.

Working for Indian River Direct can be unpredictable, with different varieties available at different times of the year because some fruits are seasonal. However, Kittrel can always depend on the residents of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana to show up and practically raid the truck for its citrus. 

“We have a good turnout,” Kittrel said. “We like the Ohio winters. We come up here and freeze our a---- off.”

Fans of the orange truck all wholeheartedly agree that Indian River Direct has the best citrus available, sold for $30-40 a box depending on the variety. A number of customers at the Athens drop-off location have been regularly meeting the truck to purchase fresh citrus every winter.

“I’ve bought it off them for years,” Jim Jones of Millfield, Ohio, said. “I think they’re a lot fresher and a lot better. This is the third time I’ve been here already (this season). Usually every time they come I get at least one or two boxes.” 

Jones explained that he is part of Indian River Direct’s mailing list. He receives a schedule of the drop-off locations and dates every year to ensure that he gets his fresh Florida citrus.

Susan Mansfield of Pomeroy, Ohio, discovered Indian River Direct through Facebook. The event caught her eye and Mansfield now firmly prefers Indian River Direct’s oranges over store-bought citrus.

“My husband’s going to eat every one of them,” Mansfield said as the just-purchased boxes of citrus were set in the trunk of her car. “I just think it’s great. And it’s great to be able to get them fresh, tree-ripened.”

Cheryl Boyer of Albany, Ohio, appreciates how Indian River Direct makes fresh citrus more accessible in the wintertime. “I’m just going to eat ‘em and enjoy ‘em,” she said with a laugh, including that she planned on sharing the citrus with her family.

Norvell said Indian River Direct’s products are much better than buying from a regular store. The people devouring the juicy halves and quarters of grapefruit and tangerines on display outside the truck, meant for sampling to narrow down the countless options of citrus, seem to help his statement ring true.

Indian River Direct will be back to distribute citrus to the Nelsonville/Athens area once more this season on Feb. 18 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Cochran Transportation Service gravel pits, 7349 Circle Drive. The full Indian River Direct distribution schedule, product list and information to order citrus can be found online at indianriverfruits.com.

lr158117@ohio.edu

@thelilyroby