As a seventh-generation Floridian, Matt McLean knows about the days when his home state was more famous for navel oranges than tourist navels. His great-grandfather, Angus Benjamin McLean, planted the family's first orange trees and began the practice of never using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, a philosophy he passed down to his children, grandchildren and eventually little Matt.
After a childhood spent toiling in orange groves, "Uncle Matt," as he is called by his 10 nieces and nephews, vowed to stay as far away from the family business as possible. He earned a bachelor's of science in business administration from the University of Florida in 1993 and started a juice-brokerage business. But after a few years, he saw an opportunity: No one was producing or selling organic orange juice.
McLean returned to the groves and launched Uncle Matt's Organic in 1999, producing certified-organic juice made exclusively from Florida oranges. Five years ago, he added certified organic produce, including oranges, tangerines, tangelos and grapefruit. The company works with a cooperative of Florida organic family farms that total 400 acres, with another 600 acres scheduled to be added next year.
McLean is an active voice in the organics industry, promoting U.S.-grown citrus and helping Florida farmers switch from conventional to organic. He recently was elected vice president of the Organic Trade Association. He's also involved with Focus International South Lake County, a nonprofit Christian business organization.
What do you enjoy most about what you do? Working with my family and knowing that by farming organically we truly are making a difference for the next generation. And it doesn't hurt that I love citrus, so I really enjoy my job during the season.
What was your inspiration when you were getting started? I wanted to do something that nobody in our family had done in the three generations prior. We had always been growers or consultants but never actually marketed a branded product to the retail trade.
Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of? Personally, my wife and I are expecting our first child in November. Professionally, the fact that we are the oldest organic OJ brand in the U.S.
What keeps you going on a tough day? Knowing my treasures are in heaven, and it's not always about the bottom line.
If Ben & Jerry's named a flavor after you, what would it be? Orange Dream.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 31