Florida’s Future Farming Leaders Dig Up Knowledge In The Golden State

Class 3 of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program recently spent three days touring farms, packinghouses, and shipping operations throughout California’s Salinas Valley. The 11 young professionals visited with growers of a variety of specialty crops, some of which they hadn’t seen before, including artichokes and mushrooms.
It was the final session for the class members before they graduate at FFVA’s annual convention Sept. 17-19 in Naples.

Class members said they were struck by the size and scope of California operations and impressed by the innovation and technology they saw on the farms and in produce processing plants. Growers shared their concerns with the group, with availability of labor and water topping the list of challenges. The men and women who hosted each stop were generous with their time and spoke candidly about markets, customers, new products, and more. Class members had a similar experience in January during their tour of South Florida farms and packinghouses. It’s that level of information exchange that makes FFVA’s Emerging Leader program so valuable for participants.

Members of Class 3 of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program toured artisan lettuce production at Tanimura & Antle in Salinas, CA. Photo by Lisa Lochridge
Members of Class 3 of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program toured artisan lettuce production at Tanimura & Antle in Salinas, CA. Photo by Lisa Lochridge

California Dreamin’

In California, the group saw production of numerous crops including strawberries, lettuce and leafy greens, celery, mushrooms, and peppers. They also toured processing plants that produce bagged salads and leaf lettuce for retail and foodservice customers. They met with representatives from C.H. Robinson, equipment builder Ramsay Highlander, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, and the United Fresh Produce Association.
Tour stops included California Giant Berry Farms, Gizdich Ranch, Duda, Taylor Farms California, Mann Packing, Ocean Mist Farms, Church Brothers, Uesugi Farms, D’Arrigo Brothers, Monterey Mushrooms, Tanimura & Antle, and Bianchi Vineyard.
“Our experience from this educational trip was profound and encourages me to educate consumers on the differences in production between the two states, to always support U.S. farmers by buying Fresh From Florida produce when available, and to rely on our western growers when Florida crops are not in season,” said class member Jamie Lang.

Learning Along The Way

Class 3 started out the year by participating in FFVA’s 2013 convention last September. They met and mingled with FFVA members, heard from industry leaders about top-of-mind issues, and laid the foundation for a year of learning.
In a November seminar at FFVA’s Maitland office, class members learned more about the association’s history, mission, and its staff. They were briefed on key issues and how FFVA works on behalf of its membership to develop solutions. Members got to know each other better through team-building exercises.

In January, participants braved a cold snap in South Florida with a tour of farms and packinghouses in Belle Glade, Loxahatchee, LaBelle, and Clewiston. Nine members of the Western Growers Association’s leadership program joined them on the tour. The three-day trip was capped off by a roundtable discussion with industry leaders on the Farm Bill, immigration reform, and political challenges.

The class joined members of FFVA’s board of directors to walk the halls of Florida’s capitol during the legislative session in March. Members of the leadership group saw firsthand the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of the legislative process. For some, it was their first visit — but certainly not their last — to Tallahassee.

Each year, graduates have finished the year-long program better informed and more plugged into the big issues of the day. Just as important, they have expanded and solidified their network of peers throughout Florida and in California. They are eager to use what they have learned to become better leaders and advocates for Florida agriculture in their community, in Tallahassee, and beyond. Their increased engagement and involvement will strengthen FFVA and help our industry continue to thrive.

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