A few miles outside of the city limits of Statesboro you will find Franklin Farms which is growing hundreds of Satsuma [sat-SOO-muh] trees. Satsumas are a loose-skinned orange. They are a type of seedless Mandarin Orange with thin skin. In most citrus producing areas, "Satsuma Mandarin" is the preferred name, but "Satsuma Tangerine" is also used.
According to whatscookingamerica.net, the fruit from a young tree averages 1.8 inches in diameter, approximately three-quarters the size of a tennis ball. With its smooth, thin, lightly attached skin, Satsumas have become known as the "kid-glove or zipper-skin citrus" due to the ease with which the skin can be removed and internal segments separated. The fruit is juicy and very sweet, low in acid, and almost seedless, with an average of only 1.5 seeds per orange.
Joe Franklin, owner of Franklin Farms, was known to most of us for the locally famous restaurant bearing his family name, Franklin's Restaurant home of the "World's Worst Apple Pie". Franklins Restaurant was established in 1952 by Joe's parents, Joe and Betty Franklin, at the "crossroads of the world" which we know as the intersection of Highway 301 and Highway 80, where the Enmark Station is now located. After Joe and Betty's retirement, Joe, Jr., his wife Arlene and their children operated the restaurant until it closed in 2004.
Bored with retirement and looking for a new adventure, Joe discovered Star Nursery in Belle Chasse, La., while visiting on a hunting trip. A few decades earlier, good friend and hunting buddy Danny Clifton had given Joe a Satsuma tree. He was intrigued by its ability to thrive in our area.
Through working with Star Nursery he learned that ones with a trifoliate root structure could withstand temperatures as low as 14 degrees versus 28 degrees for most other citrus trees. What makes this root structure unique is that it goes dormant in the winter allowing it to withstand colder temps.
In the spring of 2010, Joe planted his first 200 Satsuma trees. It takes five years for the trees to begin producing quality fruit and 10 years to fully mature. This is his first large harvest season and the instant popularity of the Satsumas locally confirm his decision to invest in this crop.
"I have experimented with growing different forms of citrus for years and have been pleased with how sweet and delicious this year's crop is", said Joe Franklin. "We fall in the most northern area that these can be grown according to the USDA. With over 1,500 trees in the ground, it is my understanding that we are one of the largest Satsuma Farms outside of Florida."
The harvest season is short and pretty much includes the month of November. Joe has been selling the Satsuma's at Anderson General Store and at the Farmers Market. He will also be selling them Tuesday night downtown at the Shopping by Lantern Light in the Sea Island Bank parking lot.
President Lannie Lee of the Bulloch County Farm Bureau and vice president Bill Akers were touring the farm during my visit last week. They were amazed not only by the quality of the product but the professionalism and size of the operation.
"This is a first class farming operation," Akers said. "Joe has invested heavily and created an environment for success including a full production and packaging line and a large amount of refrigerated storage for the product. He has definitely built for growth. We are excited to see what the future holds for Joe and Franklin Farms."
Bulloch County School students returning from Thanksgiving break next week will get to test the Satsumas. Joe has worked with the Georgia's Farm to School program which promotes locally sourced foods.
Head over to Andersons General Store or come out to the Shopping by Lantern light Tuesday night and get your Satsumas while supplies last. Your Thanksgiving guests will not believe citrus this good is actually grown here in Bulloch County.