Captain Ben Baker – Pineapple Farmer and “King of the Florida Wreckers”

Captain Ben Baker – Pineapple Farmer and “King of the Florida Wreckers”

Can you name the state fruit of Florida? We’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with… nothing. If you guessed orange, you’re correct. It’s celebrated throughout the state – the famed Orange Bowl, on Florida license plates, and grown on hundreds of citrus farms. But what most people don’t know, is that the pineapple actually reigned as citrus king of the Florida Keys for many years.

In fact, before Playa Largo existed, there was Captain Ben Baker and his 160-acre pineapple farm. During the 1860s and 1870s, Florida wrecker (one who takes valuables from ship wrecks), Captain Ben Baker homesteaded 160 acres of prime Key Largo real estate along mile marker 97. Having little prior farming experience, Baker used natural fertilizer and was able to figure out how to plant 6,000 pineapple stalks to grow the nation’s largest and most successful pineapple farm. In a single summer, Captain Ben racked up a supposed $7,000 – equivalent to more than $100,000 by today’s standards!

Photo of a Key Largo pineapple clearing; Courtesy of KeysNet

Photo of a Key Largo pineapple clearing; Courtesy of KeysNet.

Word of Captain Baker’s success spread like wildfire and prompted Bahamian settlers to try their hand at Florida pineapple farming. No one, however, could rival Captain Ben Baker. He discovered the secret art form of transporting the pineapples thousands of miles to the northeastern U.S. and was so good at his job that he affectionately became known as “King of the Florida Wreckers.”

Pineapple operations were booming! They were so successful that historians estimate that in the late 1800s, 85% of America’s pineapples were grown in the Florida Keys.

Today, the pineapple is recognized as a traditional expression of “welcome” throughout the South and in areas along the Eastern Seaboard. The fruit symbolizes those intangible assets we appreciate in a home: warmth, welcome, friendship and hospitality.

The sweet, tropical fruit has been such an integral part of our history that we couldn’t help but include it as one of the main ingredients in treatments on Ocean Spa’s menu and in some of the tropical drinks that can be enjoyed poolside or from the balcony of your future guest room at Playa Largo Resort & Spa.

* Feature image courtesy of Courtney Boydston, Flickr Creative Commons

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