From Cook Shack to Country Store

Apr 12, 2018

The historic country retreat of Florida Governor Lawton Chiles is now the site of a unique, all-organic country store. The store at Jubilee Orchards holds its grand opening this weekend, April 14 and 15.

The old "Cook Shack" during the time Governor Lawton Chiles used it as a rural retreat.
Credit Mark

Governor Chiles purchased the old plantation at the corner of Miccosukee and Back Trail roads in northeast Leon County in 1990. The two-hundred-ten acre spread called “Jubilee” became a prized retreat for the governor until his death in 1998. Now the property is under full control of his son, Bud and his wife, Kitty. Also the younger Chiles admitted, it was a challenge obtaining clear title given all his siblings.

“There’s four of us – two girls, two boys – and we had to sort out who is going to equitably take what. I’m here and I’ve been around this place probably more than anyone else in the family so it worked out with them,” he explained.

Under the name “Jubilee Orchards,” Bud and Kitty Chiles turned the place into a prosperous “pick-‘em-yourself” blueberry farm.

“We’ve been bowled over during the last few years how many hundreds of people come out here during the weekends on our fresh season to do just that with their families, to pick blueberries,” Chiles said.

His father Governor Chiles also built a small structure on the property that he called “the cook shack.” Bud Chiles recalled the run-in between the state’s chief executive and the local permitting people.

“In my dad’s inaugural as governor how he sort of got up and blasted Leon County a little bit for the process he had to go through with the cook shack. They kept saying, ‘What is it?’ ‘Well, it’s a cook shack,’ (he said) ‘It’s got a kitchen and porch and bathroom and it’s where we cook and have our events.’ And they said, ‘Well, we don’t have a cook shack; we have single-family residence.’ And it went on and on,” he laughed.

When Jubilee Orchard blueberries gained their organically grown certification, Bud Chiles decided the old building could be used as a retail outlet for them.

“Why don’t we have a store using the old cook shack where we’d be able to have our products, not just the fresh berries but also muffins and pies and jams and jellies and other marquee producers in the area, like Orchard Pond and Sweet Grass Dairy and so many others.”

Along with that, other attractions to make a visit to Jubilee Orchards a place, not only to buy food, but also to provide family entertainment.

“Add food service where people can come and have lunch – a bar-b-que lunch – pick berries, their kids can be entertained by pony and hay wagon rides and have a great experience out here at the plantation so that’s what we’re doing this year to add to the Jubilee experience and the farm store is a big part of that.”

The grand opening of the Farm Store happens this Saturday and Sunday from nine until four both days. Chiles said there are already plans afoot to further expand what he calls the “Jubilee Experience” into the online realm.

“We had this idea of extending the season in the cook shack with what we call a ‘virtual kitchen,’ a video kitchen where we invite chefs in to do 15 or 30 minute segments on how to pick, select, cook and prepare organic food, what kinds of things you should look for that are organic.”

Many of those foods available starting this weekend in the old cook shack that was such a treasured place of refuge for a much-loved Florida governor.