Retiring Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association Leader Honored
It was a night of cheers, tears, and laughter as longtime friends and colleagues honored retiring FFVA President Mike Stuart for his leadership and service to the nation’s agricultural sectors at the association’s 75th annual convention in November.
“This is Mike’s victory lap,” said FFVA Chairman Paul Orsenigo at the event’s closing dinner.
In his tribute to Stuart, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he “has done as much for the produce industry in America in the last 26 years as anyone in the country. On every single issue or crisis, Mike has been the voice of our industry in Florida and the nation. He has represented us with an unmatched tenacity, diplomacy, passion, and dedication.”
Putnam said Stuart deserves credit for expanding the nation’s perspective on agriculture beyond Midwest commodity crops to include specialty crop growers in Florida and other states. “Mike also was instrumental in the passage of country of origin labeling for fruits and vegetables in the produce section of the store,” he added.
“Thanks to Stuart’s inspirational leadership, the entire FFVA team consists of men and women of high character and integrity who share a passion for the industry,” Putnam added. “Mike has earned a rightful place in the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame, where we will recognize him next year.”
Praising his “adopted brother,” Bob Morrissey, Executive Director of the Florida-based National Watermelon Association, said he was a novice lobbyist for the industry when he met Stuart 15 years ago in Washington. “Mike walked me through the issues and we became fast friends,” he said. “Because of his mentorship and support, I performed better on my job, and he has been my role model for 15 years. I would tell my friends, ‘I want to be like Mike,’ and I didn’t mean Michael Jordan.”
Reggie Brown, recently retired Manager of the Florida Tomato Committee, said, “I served on the association’s recruiting team, and we wanted to find a leader who was passionate about agriculture,” Brown said. “I’ve worked with Mike since then, and I can tell you he truly cares about all of you. His positive attitude has helped us overcome many challenges through the years, and I am proud to call him a colleague and a dear friend.”
Responding to the tributes, Stuart thanked his own mentors and recognized his children and grandchildren in the audience. “My family has been a rock for me over the last two years,” he said, fighting back tears over the death of his wife, Karen, in 2016. “I know she’s looking down on us tonight.”
Turning to the state’s agricultural community, Stuart said FFVA has a “tremendous corps” of volunteer leaders. “We try to nurture that spirit,” he said. “As a result, our board, our staff, and our members are all on the same team, and we love and respect each other. I thank you all for your commitment to our industry here and nationwide as we continue to fight for the future of our industry.”
Also at the convention, FFVA announced that it had hired Mike Joyner to replace Stuart as president. Most recently, Joyner had worked for the past eight years as Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture under Putnam.