Every Friday you can hear retired rock musician Joe DeLauro hawking his citrus at a farmers market on University Boulevard, a rascally grin on his face and his long hair tightly woven into a long braid reaching the middle of his back.
“Ladies, come try some of my fresh citrus,” he shouts. “Your mouth will say ‘thank you,’ and your taste buds will jump for joy.”
Women of all ages, from college coeds to retired red-hats, stop for a taste and enjoy his charming patter. Oh yeah, some guys shop there too, but they don’t seem to get as much attention.
“I live in the old orange grove that Orange Grove Road was named after,” said DeLauro. He and his wife, Jean, moved to Tucson five years ago from Vail, Colo., where they were tired of the warm season only lasting a few short months. Jean DeLauro came to visit her daughter in Tucson and fell in love with the climate. She convinced her husband to move and started looking at houses. One day she called and told him, “You won’t believe the great place I found.”
DeLauro, a Long Island native, said, “I thought of cactus and desert living. I had no idea I would wind up living in one of the oldest citrus groves in Arizona!”
Health seeker Maurice L. Reid planted this famous orange grove in the late 1920s on the northwest side of Tucson. In a 1979 interview, his son Gene Reid (for whom Reid Park is named) told reporter Vicki Thompson that his father realized plants did not freeze in a certain area that was sheltered from storms by the Catalina Mountains. Maurice Reid called this frost-free area a “thermal belt.” Thompson discovered that William Sellers of the University of Arizona Atmospheric Sciences Department agreed with Reid. Trees growing along the riverbed get plenty of water, but could not survive the cold night air.
Digging wells and planting on slightly higher ground was the key to success for Reid, as it still is for DeLauro. He calls his enterprise Treasure Joe’s Desert Citrus.
“We just add water and sunshine and let nature do its thing,” he said.
The trees are huge now, many of them 15 to 20 feet high. “The roots are really entrenched because the trees are so darn old.”
DeLauro loves a good sales pitch, and really throws himself into it.
“I wouldn’t hawk so hard if I didn’t know how good this stuff was,” he said.
Being a musician for 44 years taught him to play the crowd. He toured nationwide in the 1970s with the Michael Martin Murphy Band and now plays drums for the band The Smokin’ Section in Oro Valley.
Being a former New Yorker probably doesn’t hurt either.
DeLauro likes to inform people that his citrus contains no pesticides or preservatives.
“I wouldn’t let your children eat any of that nasty stuff,” Joe tells a mom as her toddler gobbles up his third free orange wedge.
You can hear Treasure Joe DeLauro hawking his wares at the farmers market on University Boulevard from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Friday and at St. Philip’s Plaza from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. The citrus is tasty, and it’s a chance to hear DeLauro’s pitch while taking a bite out of Tucson history.
Joe DeLauro hawks citrus at area farmers markets:
• 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Fridays on University Boulevard between Euclid and Park avenues
• 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays at St. Philip’s Plaza at the southeast corner of Campbell Avenue and River Road
For more information, visit www.stphilipsplaza.com or www.health.arizona.edu/webfiles/hpps_farmers_market.htm.