Class 7 members of Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s (FFVA) Emerging Leader Development Program (ELDP) got an up-close look at the legislative process in late January during the session in Tallahassee. For some, it was their first time in the state capital.
The two-day session gave the group a glimpse of how bills become law and how FFVA advocates for its members on issues that are important to agriculture. Guided by FFVA Director of Government Relations Butch Calhoun, the group met with lawmakers to urge their support for several priority bills. They also met with Noah Valenstein, the new Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The class was joined by a few members of FFVA’s board of directors for the meetings.
It also was a chance for the group to hear from leaders about leadership. Several legislators talked about what prompted them to run for office. Others discussed characteristics of leadership and gave advice about steps the class members could take to continue on their leadership path. It was valuable insight for this group of young professionals who have been identified as part of our next generation of farm industry leaders.
Rep. Jake Raburn decided to throw his hat in the ring for elected office when a new House District 57 seat was drawn in 2012. He was 27. The timing was right, he said, and his victory came only after the hard work of walking neighborhoods and knocking on thousands of doors. Even if running for office is not an aspiration, Raburn urged the class to cultivate relationships with their elected officials. “It’s an easy first step” in doing the necessary work of spreading the word about agriculture, he said.
In his characteristically straight-forward fashion, Rep. Halsey Beshears of District 7 said the key to leadership is to look within. “Know what you have a passion for and follow your heart,” he said. “Believe you can make a difference. Find whatever it is you love, and then do it.” He warned the Class 7 members to avoid insincerity. “Tell your story, and make it real,” he said.
Rep. Ben Albritton of District 57 gave several pieces of advice. First, he told the group, “Be true to yourself.” He added that it’s paramount to be well-informed if you want to have credibility in discussing issues. “It’s simple,” he said. “If you want to lead, read.” He advised the class members to begin building a well-rounded library now. Albritton also recommended they develop a rapport with their legislators, but that it’s often easier to do so when they’re in their district offices. Visits during the legislative session are good, he said, but the pace is less hectic and you’ll have more time to explain an issue if you talk with lawmakers when they’re home.
Besides those lawmakers, the ELDP group met with Reps. Jim Boyd, Matt Caldwell, and Rick Roth, as well as Sens. Kelli Stargel, Wilton Simpson, David Simmons, and Denise Grimsley. Raburn and Roth are FFVA members. Grimsley and Caldwell are both running for agriculture commissioner.
Mary Ann Hooks of UF/IFAS discussed budget priorities, and Jackie Moalli, Director of Marketing and Development for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, gave an overview of the Fresh From Florida program, which partners with the industry to promote and market Florida agricultural products.
The session marked the halfway point in FFVA’s yearlong ELDP. The group is now off to tour farms and packinghouses in South Florida.