Since we just concluded a season of thanksgiving, and because I just celebrated 10 years of employment at the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, I thought I would use this space to reflect on the past decade and look forward to another year.
I had the good fortune of coming to work for FFVA President Mike Stuart and the association at the end of 2006. I had two-plus decades of work as an editor at the Orlando Sentinel under my belt, plus seven years helping to lead a well-known Central Florida public relations agency. It was the perfect opportunity for me to put my strategic communication skills to work and to come back to a world I was familiar with: agriculture.
Even though it wasn’t my first choice for a career, my roots were in agriculture. I grew up in Apopka during a time when you either owned or managed a foliage nursery, a grove, or a farm on Lake Apopka — or you worked for someone who did.
My father managed a large indoor foliage nursery in Orlando for years and eventually launched his own. My summers were spent in the greenhouses weeding, watering, sticking philodendron cuttings, potting plants, packing orders, and sweating. If I was really lucky, I got to sit in an air-conditioned office and type invoices.
I tell my friends I have the best job around. Why? Because of this industry and the people who work in it. Florida agriculture and its related industries account for a $148.5 billion economic impact in the state, providing 1.52 million jobs — more than 14% of all jobs in the state. We lead the nation in the production of grapefruit, snap beans, squash, sugarcane, cucumbers, oranges, tomatoes, and watermelons.
Florida’s specialty crop producers are an amazing group of people. When I go out and visit with growers, I like to ask them what constitutes a good day on the farm. Invariably, they talk about taking on the daily challenges — the weather, markets, workforce, and more — and being able to problem-solve their way to success. At the end of the day, they say, they take great satisfaction in the fact they’ve produced food to feed Americans and the world.
Producers in Florida are innovative and determined. When a roadblock presents itself, they collaborate to work their way through it. Labor shortages? Research is ongoing to come up with varieties that will withstand automated picking. Efforts are underway to develop an automated harvesting machine for strawberries. A new pest or disease threatening a crop? Growers leverage their collective knowledge and tap into research resources to come up with solutions.
Growers are generous. They support in a major way charitable causes that improve the lives of farmworkers, such as the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. They open their checkbooks to fund research and scholarships. They donate healthful but unmarketable produce to food banks in their communities to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens can have nutritious food on their tables. They support myriad charities in their local communities.
It’s rewarding to be able to work on the priority issues that confront FFVA and its members. Some efforts are more marathons than sprints, but the progress we make encourages and motivates us to keep moving forward. To be able to put skills to work to help growers solve problems is satisfying and gratifying.