Dustin Grooms runs the family strawberry farm with love and duty
By Mick Lochridge
Eight years in the Army taught Dustin Grooms a lot about fairness, hard work and duty. Blending that education with the life lessons he learned from his father growing up, he was armed with the maturity and know-how to take on the responsibility of running his family’s strawberry farm.
“Growing produce is a role that I take seriously,” said Grooms, the 36-year-old farm manager at Fancy Farms in Plant City. “I considered myself a hard but fair drill sergeant, and I apply that to farming, although my crew tells me we aren’t in the Army anymore.
“The same principles that my dad taught me I try to instill in anyone who works for me. One of the seven Army values is duty, which means to fulfill your obligations. As an American farmer, it is my duty to provide safe, quality and delicious berries to the consumer.”
Born and raised on the farm that his parents started in 1974, the young Grooms worked alongside his parents and decided that was where he belonged.
“When I was little I told them I didn’t need to go to school, that I was going to stay right here on the farm and be just fine,” he said. “I didn’t go to college, but I was in the Army for 8½ years. I’m back on the farm, and I feel like I am doing just fine.”
He joined the family business when he left the service in 2007. Today he runs the operation, and his aunt is the office manager. His parents still lend a hand and advice. “My father is the only retired person I know who comes to work every day,” Grooms said.
“I have learned from my parents to trust in the Lord and He will take care of you,” he said. “Also to do everything with 110 percent effort, no matter what task is at hand.”
Fancy Farms grows berries on 170 acres, a big jump from the original 15. The farm has about 10 year-round employees and hires up to 175 during harvest season, typically from December to March. Grooms said he aims to produce about 500,000 pounds of berries each season. Wish Farms, also in Plant City, handles packing and distribution.
The crop is primarily Florida Radiance, but the farm also has planted Sweet Sensations and Florida Beauty. Grooms said he is looking forward to a new cultivar, Florida Brilliance, next year.
A graduate of Class 4 in FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program, Grooms praised the group: “The Florida future of agriculture is bright. FFVA has created this Emerging Leader Development class, and we’ve seen people rise up who are just as passionate about agriculture as I am. They’re there to make a difference. And we see people standing up. And people are getting excited about food.”
Grooms and wife Alison, who recently became an extension agent, are setting examples as good stewards of the land for their daughter, Skyler, 12.
“I love farming. I love every aspect of it. I love the challenges that I face every day,” he said. “I love to plant the seeds, to plant the plant. I love the growing of it. I love the taking care of it.
“The No. 1 thing is actually getting to eat it. And every day I get to go out there and bend down and pick a strawberry and I get to eat it. That’s what we live for, right there.”
View Dustin Groom's member spotlight video on FFVA's YouTube channel.
Brittany Lee charts a winning course with Florida Blue Farms
By Mick Lochridge
Brittany Lee sets a great example for young son Jeb. An award-winning leader in Florida’s blueberry industry, Lee will pass along her drive to work hard and make a difference, whether it’s in a farm field or in a boardroom.
“I hope what Jeb learns from me is that hard work and dedication can be truly rewarding,” she said. “That being able to point to a plentiful harvest is a real and tangible thing. It’s powerful to see the success that comes from a year’s worth of long hours and hard work.”
Career commitment seems to come naturally to Lee, the 35-year-old vice president and farm manager of family-owned Florida Blue Farms, which planted its first trees in 2010 on land just south of Waldo in eastern Alachua County.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s exciting every day, and you never have the same problem twice.”
Because it sits in a former stand of pine trees that left the land acidic, Florida Blue grows its Southern Highbush varieties in soil, not in pine mulch like many blueberry farms.
“Blueberries were the perfect crop for this location, not only because of the ideal soils and organic matter, but also because the University of Florida IFAS breeding program has developed many varieties that are perfectly suited for our climate,” Lee said. The farm grows Farthing, San Joaquin, Meadowlark and Indigocrisp varieties.
Both the state and the blueberry industry in 2017 recognized Lee for her farming expertise and concern for the environment. She was elected president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association and won the Florida Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher Achievement Award. In addition, the farm received the Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. She also serves as the Florida delegate for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
Those honors add to a resume of Lee’s involvement with community service groups and agriculture organizations. She is a member of the Governmental Relations and Membership committees for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and was a member of the Class IX of the Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources.
She also stays active in a number of community groups in the Gainesville area, involvement that she believes is important. “A community is only as strong as the people who live and work there are committed to making it,” she said.
Her family is part of that community. Lee and husband Ryan Brown, 33, who teaches physical education at Queen of Peace Catholic Academy in Gainesville, live in the college town. Son Jeb, which stands for Joseph Edward Brown, just celebrated his first Christmas.
After graduating from the University of Florida in 2005, Lee joined her father’s company, Florida Woodland Group, as a sales representative. She holds real estate licenses in Florida and South Carolina.
It was through that connection that Florida Blue Farms was created. The real estate company owned the acreage for silviculture. Initially, the family hired a management company to run the blueberry farm, but that arrangement eventually lead to the family taking it over.
In the past seven years, the farm has expanded from an initial 50 acres to 110 acres of blueberry trees that produce 750,000 pounds of berries a year. That’s enough to fill two semi-truck loads a day during picking season, which starts in late March.
The farm typically has six to seven full-time employees year-round, but the payroll swells to 150 during picking season. Naturipe distributes its product.
Producing safe and healthy food for the public holds a top priority for Lee.
“Agriculture is important for several reasons,” she said. “It’s the passion and dedication of the agricultural community that works extremely hard to provide a food source for our community and the worldwide consumer.
“It’s also one of the major economic drivers in the state of Florida and the U.S.”
Alan Jones: ‘Protect the environment, provide safe local food’
By Mick Lochridge
Alan Jones knows hard work pays off. From a high school teenager helping on his family’s farm to running a successful agriculture operation today, he has cultivated a work ethic that has earned high praise from his industry.
Recognized for his innovative farming practices to protect Florida’s natural resources, Jones in September joined the 40-member board of directors for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, whose members represent the vast majority of fresh fruit and vegetable production the state.
“The first year I’ll sit back and watch and see how things work,” he said of his board involvement. “Then I’ll see how I can make a positive impact. I like to talk about solutions, not just about problems.”
That kind of approach to issues has resulted in an ever-expanding business for Jones, his wife, Leslie, and Jones Potato Farm in Parrish in Manatee County. There they harvest about 50 million pounds of potatoes, for chipping and table stock, and 200,000 bushels of green beans annually on more than 3,000 acres. Last year, he built a packinghouse onsite for the beans. In addition, his company owns 1,200 acres of citrus in Hendry and Lee counties. The farm also has about 200 beef cattle.
“My fiduciary responsibility is to do what is good for me as a farmer and what is good for the consumer -- to deliver the highest-quality product at the least cost,” said the 50-year-old company president and CEO.
Jones said he follows Best Management Practices “to use the least amount of water, pesticides and fertilizer to produce the highest-quality, safe beans and potatoes.”
His efficient farming methods include GPS technology to apply a precise amount of fertilizer in a precise location. To conserve water, he combines a furrow ditch system with watering pivots. Float wells let him gauge irrigation based on the water table.
As a testament to his concern for the environment, the farm has received several awards:
• The 2017 Grower Achievement Award from American Vegetable Grower magazine, in cooperation with United Fresh Produce Association, for the farm’s commitment to sustainable practices and community involvement, including supplying homeless shelters with fresh produce, farm-to-school movement/// and providing vegetables to local areas where fresh produce is not easily available.
• The 2016 Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for using innovative farming techniques that protect and conserve the state’s natural resources.
• The 2013 4R Advocate Award from the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program for the farm’s goals to optimize use of fertilizer and improve water quality. Developed by fertilizer and plant nutrition groups, the program stands for “the right source and the right rate at the right time, in the right place.”
Yet owning his own farm was a distant star to a young Alan Jones, who in high school was climbing out of bed before dawn twice a week to deliver bags of greens from his family’s farm to Publix stores in St. Augustine.
“I was the only kid waking up at 3 a.m. to go to work,” Jones recalled about his job in the ’80s. “But that taught me how to make money.”
That produce was from Jones Brothers Farm, owned by his father and uncle. A longtime member of FFVA, the farm was primarily a truck farming operation that also produced potatoes, onions and watermelons.
“Dad taught me that there’s hard work in agriculture and farming, but there’s money, too,” Jones said. “They go hand in hand.”
In 1986 his father moved to Manatee County to start a new farm. At the time, the younger Jones was studying food and resource economics at the University of Florida and helping out on the farm when he could. He eventually would join his father full-time. Around 2000, Jones took over the farm and bought out his dad. Since then, the business has grown from 450 acres to more than 4,000 with 25 employees.
“I chose to invest my money in land when everybody else was buying dot-coms,” he said.
Along with growing a business, Alan and Leslie, whom he met at UF, also are raising a family. Their daughter, Madeline, is a junior studying nursing at Georgia Southern University; their son Harrison is a high school senior who plans to study agriculture in college; and son Carson is a high school sophomore. The family lives in Sarasota, less than 30 minutes from the farm.
When he’s not farming, Jones likes to go saltwater fishing and play golf. And living on Florida’s southwest coast, he’s in the perfect place to enjoy both.
It’s also an area bustling with new commercial and residential development heading east along U.S. Highway 301 toward the unincorporated Parrish. That could mean something new for Jones, who envisions a day when he may consider development on some of his farmland. “I enjoy long-range planning,” he said.
But until that day, he remains committed to his twin priorities: “Protect our natural resources and provide a safe, local food source.”
Andrews offers advice on raising great adults
Humorist, consultant, and author of best-selling “The Noticer” and “The Traveler’s Gift,” Andy Andrews delivered an inspirational message sprinkled with personal anecdotes to attendees at the traditional Cracker Breakfast during FFVA 2017.
Parents shouldn’t worry about raising fine children, he said. Instead, think about how you can guide them to becoming great adults. "We have a whole lot of disrespectful behaviors in America that will not helpful to a child's future career opportunities," he said. "You have to explain why that's the case, and persuade them to make a change for the better."
"I can't run or sing very well, but I notice little things that make a big difference in the lives of individuals and families," he said. "Even as a little kid, I remember my mom telling me, 'Be careful or you'll poke your eye out with a stick.' I knew that a stick would poke your eye inward, rather than out, but I didn't argue with her."
In consulting with football teams, Andrews said he's noticed that all coaches urge their players to play as hard as they can from the moment the ball is snapped until the whistle is blown. "But there’s another whole game that no one talks about, and that’s what happens the ball is not in play," he said. "So if you can compete in a totally different way, like from the ref’s whistle to the next snap of the football, you can run your opponent off the field."
In business, Andrews said almost every company competes on the basis of price and product. But when he asked the audience if anyone had ever paid extra for a product they like or patronized a store where they have a relationship with the owner or manager, virtually everyone raised their hands. "That tells us that there's something more important that product or price in business, and that's who you are, including your desires, values and friends."
To parents, Andrews emphasized the importance of teaching children solid principles to guide their actions. "It's a better way for them to live their lives than searching online for an answer to their issues," he said, adding that these seven principles apply to adults as well:
• Taking responsibility. Everyone makes choices in response to the crazy things in life, he said. “Don't blame others; take control of your life and see if that takes you to a place you like or don't like,” he said. “That's what the game of life is all about.”
• Seeking wisdom. Noting that wisdom is different from knowledge, Andrews said, "The best question we can ask our kids is simply this: 'Is this a wise thing to do?' "
• Doing something. Don’t sit on the sofa hoping for something to change. Instead, take action and make something happen in your life.
• Having a decided heart. Rather than over-analyzing your choices and second-guessing your decisions, make your choices and move on. “You can't always made right decisions every time, but you don't want to analyze everything to death,” he said.
• Choosing to be happy. “You can choose whether to see the glass as half empty or half full,” Andrews said. “So, make a conscious choice to be happy.”
• Forgiving others. Think of this as a life strategy, he said. “Let go of the bad things that have happened to you and move forward.”
• Persisting without exception. When faced with an obstacle, don’t give up. Instead, keep on going, without excuses, until you come out on the other side.
"I know that everyone in this room suffered in some way from Hurricane Irma," said Andrews. Noting that his Alabama home was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, he added, "My wife and I lost our house, but not our family. While it's not easy, I encourage you to say ‘thanks’ and embrace the spirit of gratefulness."
Investment in ELDP brings significant returns
By Travis Kuhn, Spring Valley Farms
There are a lot of things to be learned in a classroom, but there is no substitute for experience. I am thankful to FFVA for the ELDP program and the opportunity to learn from others. Agriculture is a dynamic industry in every way. This program provided amazing insight into how it’s changing around the country and here right outside our doorstep. The program brings to the forefront of every participant’s mind the need to be vigilant and persevere. Learning of the battles people such as Reggie Brown of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange have waged to protect producers in our state and the war that drags on every day in Tallahassee around our rights to responsibly farm is sobering.
But the program was also encouraging. To see what industry peers have accomplished and built with determination and ingenuity is inspiring. It fans the flames and gives me a target to strive for. That target looks like involvement, entrepreneurship and environmental stewardship. It looks like teamwork and fellowship.
The program encompasses such a wide array of agriculture. It’s hard to envision a way to fit any more into the program than we did. Every producer, legislator, industry representative and even our bus driver offered a surprising amount of honesty. They entrusted us with their knowledge, struggles and triumphs. They listened to our questions and offered solutions and we reciprocated in kind when possible.
I have a strong appreciation for the value FFVA gives to the specialty crop industry. It’s hard to imagine what our industry would look like without a body that unifies us. The staff of FFVA works hard building a commercial atmosphere we can thrive in. Each staff member is passionate about what they do and it shows through their successes as our representatives and counselors. Sonia Tighe’s efforts on this program do not go unnoticed, and we commend her for that. The support of the FFVA membership and corporate sponsors for this program are an investment with significant returns in the future of Florida agriculture.
Rick Roth's 1st term in Legislature: 'Much more than I expected'
By Mick Lochridge
A respected farmer and business owner in South Florida, Rick Roth has long advocated for issues beneficial to his community and Florida’s agriculture industry. His leadership positions with farming organizations, along with his own successful commercial operations, have provided him with experiences and insight to tackle an even bigger role – in the state Legislature.
Roth, 64, just finished his freshman term in the Florida House of Representatives, where he represented District 85, which includes Palm Beach Gardens, Juno Beach, North Palm Beach, the Acreage and parts of Loxahatchee, Royal Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.
“The decision to run was a natural outgrowth and next step in my career as a business owner, farmer and landowner in Florida,” he said. “I have been involved in politics and farm policy for more than 30 years and have encouraged others to get more involved by setting a good example.”
“In the end,” he added, “the decision to run was answering the call to step up and do more for my country.”
A third-generation farmer, Roth joined his father in the family business in 1976 after graduating from Emory University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. In 1986 he became the president and principal owner of Roth Farms, a closely held family farm in the Everglades Agricultural Area near Belle Glade. The company, with 20 full-time and 150 seasonal employees, grows radishes, leafy vegetables, rice, sugar cane, sweet corn, green beans and celery.
In 2007 Roth opened a state-of-the-art packinghouse in Belle Glade, naming it Ray’s Heritage after his father. The plant handles radishes, sweet corn, green beans, leafy vegetables and celery.
Active in the agriculture community, he serves on the boards of the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. In addition, he is president and founding board member of the Florida Rice Growers Association and serves on the Farmers Feeding Florida Advisory Committee to Feeding Florida.
Married 39 years, Roth and his wife, Jeanie, have lived in Wellington for 38 years and have three adult children and three grandchildren.
FFVA caught up with Roth to ask him about his experience in the Legislature.
FFVA: Was your first term in the Legislature what you expected?
Roth: My first term in office was so much more than I expected. The amount of information and knowledge required to evaluate and vote on hundreds of bills is overwhelming. Fortunately, it is still easier than vegetable farming in Florida. I was impressed with the level of expertise of legislators and staff on every subject imaginable.
FFVA: What were your biggest accomplishments?
Roth: I developed key friendships with members to discuss pending legislation. I introduced two bills (dealing with regulations for hospice services and public records for agriculture research) that were signed into law, and I gained valuable insight into passing future bills. Just as important, I participated on different levels to amend or stop legislation that I had problems with.
FFVA: What do you hope to accomplish during the next session?
Roth: I am a big-picture guy. I am pro-business, pro-jobs and pro-environment. If you are anti-business and pro-environment, please move to Denmark. I am working on several bills under the broad categories of efficient government, public safety and civility.
FFVA: How do you juggle your legislative duties with your farm business?
Roth: In an ideal world, every farmer’s goal is to pass on the family farm to the next generation. I have been blessed with the family and great employees to run the day-to-day operations. God’s timing is perfect. My adult children have their careers, and this step gives them greater opportunities and responsibilities.
FFVA: What qualities did you take from the farm to the Legislature?
Roth: I am a small-town business owner. I am privileged to have grown up, lived and worked in the same community all my life. For years I have said, “I live in Belle Glade. I sleep in Wellington.” I learned early in life that everything works better when you work hard and are honest. Finally, as a business owner, you become adept at solving problems and evaluating the performance of everyone you work with, including yourself.
FFVA: In what ways do your farming experiences make you a better lawmaker?
Roth: In agriculture, you learn quickly that there are certain things that have to be done today. Second, farmers are long-term planners. So you believe in long-term strategic planning to accomplish big goals. You learn patience and understand that waiting is work, too.
FFVA: What have you learned in Tallahassee that you can use in your farming business?
Roth: My main focus as a legislator is to “always tell the truth without making people mad.” That is accomplished in part by the phrase “less is more.” My goal is to keep debates and discussions short and to the point.
FFVA: What issues that affect other farmers have you fought for – and against?
Roth: There were several bills lowering taxes and regulations that help all business owners, which include the constitutional amendments to increase the homestead exemption by $25,000 and cap the non-homestead exemption to a maximum 10 percent annual increase permanently. We were also able to include veterinary medicine and other items in the category of sales tax-exempt agriculture expenses.
California tour gives leadership group new insights
A three-day California production tour opened a window to new crops and production practices for Class 6 of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program. Company presidents and farm managers opened their operations to the group as it traveled across the Salinas Valley June 25-27.
It was the fifth and final session for the class before it graduates at FFVA’s annual convention in September. The class began its year together with an orientation at FFVA’s offices in November. In January they toured South Florida farms and packinghouses, and they visited with legislators in Tallahassee in March.
In California, the class saw some crops for the first time, including apples, mushrooms, artichokes and wine grapes. They also learned, however, that many of the same issues pose challenges in California just as they do in Florida.
The tour gave the class the opportunity to discuss farming challenges in detail with leaders of the California companies. The No. 1 concern raised repeatedly by the hosts was the serious shortage of labor. A close second was over-regulation by the state and federal governments. And though the California drought may be over, growers cited long-term water quality and quantity concerns. They also discussed the need for innovation to stay efficient and competitive in the marketplace.
In addition to seeing production practices in the fields, the group also toured major several receiving, cooling, packing and shipping operations. Meeting with agriculture leaders in Salinas, they heard about the top issues facing growers in the valley and work by the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California on those issues.
The group also learned about innovations underway in mechanical harvesting and precision agriculture.
“I was amazed at how cutting-edge their farming practices are, specifically in harvesting,” said class member Jeff Searcy of Helena Chemical. “The technological advances they have made in mechanical harvesting clearly show their focus on efficiency, and more importantly food safety.”
A special thanks to Driscoll’s for hosting the ELDP for dinner on the first night of the trip.
Tour stops and hosts were:
Uesugi Farms in Gilroy, Pete Aiello – peppers
DiMare Company in Gilroy, Jeff Dolan – tomatoes
Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, Vince Gizdich – apples and peaches
Monterey Mushrooms in Watsonville, Matt Fuller – mushrooms
Driscoll’s in Aromas and Watsonville, various hosts – strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Mark Reasons and Glenn Alameda – artichokes
Duda in Salinas, Sammy Duda – celery
Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, Jim Bogart; Monterey County Commissioner of Agriculture Eric Lauritzen; Kim Stemler, Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association
Bengard Ranch in Salinas, Bridget Rotticci – broccoli
Taylor Farms in Salinas, Rigo Ramirez – bagged salad processing
Taylor Farms in Salinas, Chris Rotticci – automated lettuce harvesting
D’Arrigo in Salinas, Mark Houle and Daniel DeLorimier – vegetable and strawberry receiving, cooling, shipping
Tanimura & Antle in Salinas, Ashley Pipkin and Nick Sgheiza – lettuce
Ramsay Highlander in Gonzales, Frank Maconachy – mechanical harvesting
Pisoni Vineyards in Soledad, Mark Pisoni – wine grapes
New company gives landowners a link to additional revenue
By Mick Lochridge
John Evans, a member of a longtime Florida farming and real estate family, turned his light bulb of an idea into a money-making venture by connecting property owners with folks looking to lease land for everything from cows to crops to camping.
His company’s website, LandLeaseExchange.com, provides a space for landowners to post photos and descriptions of property available for lease. For example, a 544-acre farm near Wildwood has four wells and is suitable for growing onions, peanuts and watermelons. In Volusia County, there is a 200-acre cattle ranch with fencing and cow pens. In the coastal bayous of Louisiana, a hunting and fishing lodge offers a haven for both sportsmen and nature lovers.
From his job in agriculture real estate as vice president of Maury L. Carter & Associates in Orlando, Evans was in the perfect position to see the opportunity for creating the new business.
“We get hundreds, if not thousands, of unsolicited phone calls a year on the properties in our portfolio from individuals and companies looking to lease or rent our properties for various reasons,” he said. “I recognized this enormous need and demand for private land use. But I also recognized something else. Landowners of all types are constantly looking for ways to make additional income or generate new revenue streams on their land.”
So he created a way for the two parties to connect, launching the website this past spring. The service is available in every state, and there are nearly 40 listings, most in Florida. The cost is $75 a month to list a property; there is no charge to visit the site and search for land. FFVA members can receive a nine-month free trial with discount code FFVALLE17.
“No property is too small or too big,” said Evans, president and CEO of Land Lease Exchange. “Lease all of your land or just a portion.”
One of his clients is Lykes Bros., an agribusiness with land in Florida and Texas. The company listed three Florida properties on the exchange, two for hunting leases in Glades County and a preserve with a lodge suitable for company retreats and family gatherings in Glades County.
“We have had tremendous interest in both of the hunting lands, and we are in the process of leasing them,” said Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, vice president of strategic development for the company. She added that other lands, including property in west Texas, would be evaluated for including on the exchange.
That fits right in with Evans’ plan.
“We provide something that has never existed, a marketplace where landowners and land users can connect,” Evans said. “It’s a service that has not been available and that is in huge demand by both.”
Most of the initial land posted for leasing centers on traditional farming. Yet Evans said he expected interest to build for recreational and other uses.
“Livestock and production agriculture crops are just the beginning as these sites are in huge demand for leasing across our state and country,” he said. “But there is an enormous segment of our population looking for recreational opportunities too, such as hunting, camping, horseback riding.” Landowners also can post their agri-tourism properties.
Evans, 32, is a 2008 graduate of the University of Mississippi with a degree in real estate finance. A seventh-generation Floridian, he lives in Winter Park with wife Ann and son Jack, 1.
His family’s companies are Nelson & Co. Inc. and Evans Groves, based in Oviedo. His family has been farming since the 1880s in Florida and grows citrus and blueberries.
“My family is in agriculture and real estate. I love both,” he said. “I also love hunting and the outdoors. I wanted a career that would meld all of those things together, which landed me with my current position in the agri-real estate industry. And that led me to LandLeaseExchange.com.”
Alan Chambers impacts Miami
By Jack Payne
Alan Chambers moved to South Florida last year to create only-in-Miami food.
He wants to give you a sweeter papaya with an aroma you can pick up from five feet away. He hopes to eventually offer you a mango with smoother flesh (not the kind with the stringy yellow stuff inside). He’s looking for an avocado that grows consistently so your customers can afford it all the time.
He’d even like to see the return of the Miami lime, a rarity even on the rim of a mojito glass these days.
Chambers came here for the food. He believes that in a place where the climate is so hospitable to tropical fruits, Miamians should enjoy locally grown produce. Here in South Florida, you have the opportunity to eat and grow food that wouldn’t be exactly the same if it were grown in Mexico, California, or even North Florida.
No, Chambers is not a chef. He’s a scientist. He delves into the molecular recipes of tropical fruits to see if he can find the one that’s best suited to Miami’s soils, precipitation, humidity — and your taste buds.
Chambers works for the University of Florida. In his lab at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, he’s paid to “invent” food that keeps local farmers working and consumers enjoying the fruits of that innovation.
His success will mean fresher food that travels fewer miles and keeps more food dollars here.
Chambers has a lot of help. In fact, the research center has experts who have been working on better food for years. Chambers joins the team as part of a new generation of scientists with expertise in modern plant-breeding methods.
He has help at home, too. He might be the only dad whose kids ask for a piece of fruit by its experimental breeding number. The brutal honesty of those six kids makes them great taste testers of food created with traditional cross-breeding methods. They’ll also be some of the first mouths to try future fruits that Chambers and his colleagues will discover much more rapidly by borrowing technologies from medicine.
UF/IFAS is all over the state, but with the support of local legislators it has invested a great deal in scientists, labs and other buildings at the Tropical Research and Education Center in the past two years. Now the center’s researchers can work harder than ever to develop new twists on your old favorites, from guavas to bananas to avocados.
State funding made it possible to bring Chambers and others here to work on local challenges. UF/IFAS has added building space and equipment to give these scientists the tools they need to contribute to the health of Miami’s people and its economy.
The new tools and techniques that Chambers and others use to breed new varieties of fruit enable them to make these contributions sooner.
Miami is a special place. It deserves special food. Now.
In the past, it might have taken 10 years to develop a new variety of fruit. But with new technologies, Chambers hopes to do it in a year or two – not after his 9-year-old has graduates from high school.
Chambers and UF/IFAS also want his children to be able to buy local as grown-ups. That means helping local farmers survive plant-eating bugs that hitchhike into Miami on ships and planes, more droughts and hurricanes, and the volatility of markets.
A lot of the science to make that happen will come out of the research center in Homestead. The university, the state, and the local farming community will all continue to work together to make sure that science works for you.
We think you’ll enjoy the result every time you feed yourself or your kids.
Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
FFVA Chairman profile
By Doug Ohlemeier
FFVA Chairman Paul OrsenigoPaul Orsenigo, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s newest chairman, always wanted to be a farmer.
Though Orsenigo, owner of Belle Glade-based Orsenigo Farms Inc., and co-owner of Growers Management, wasn’t raised in a farming family, he developed a love for growing things at a young age.
LOVE OF GROWING
His late father, Dr. Joseph Orsenigo, was a plant physiologist and weed scientist at the University of Florida’s Belle Glade experiment station. At eight years of age, the younger Orsenigo grew backyard gardens.
He says he was fortunate to have his avocation his career. “The beauty of farming is that it is a blend of art and science,” Orsenigo said. “Each artist paints what he or she chooses to paint and uses his own creativity and inventiveness. The grower has to have a feel for the condition of the crop.”
Orsenigo’s dream job has grown into a successful operation. Orsenigo Farms grows sugarcane, rice and other various crops while Growers Management grows and packs sweet corn and lettuce such as spring mix and other leaf items.
After graduating from the University of Florida’s College of Agriculture in 1979, Orsenigo worked for several growers in the Everglades Agricultural Area. He first became involved with FFVA during the late 1980s shortly after starting Orsenigo Farms. In 2000, he and David Basore started Growers Management.
For Orsenigo, the strength of FFVA is its membership as well as its staff’s knowledge and leadership. FFVA harvests expertise from its members, which hail from a variety of positions, including company owners, presidents, managers and those from different talent bases.
In 1994, he joined FFVA’s board and was also involved in committees including production and natural resources. In 2014, Orsenigo was elected FFVA vice chairman. “I want to express my gratitude to the membership for electing me to serve,” he said.
The organization continues to evolve to help its members by finding solutions to meet today’s business challenges. Building consensus on the important issues remains vital and FFVA has adapted to remain progressive and responsive to its members’ needs.
“We at FFVA have a systemic approach to get people involved by not just sitting around and listening to lectures, but by giving them an opportunity to provide input and employing their knowledge based on firsthand experiences,” Orsenigo said. “That reinforces our organizational strength.”
Orsenigo and Basore strive to incorporate production advances and keep up with consumer trends. One advancement for Growers Management is growing herbs on plastic with drip irrigation, which provides multiple harvests. The company started the experimental project in 2016 and the two plan to expand it next year.
“It takes an intangible talent to understand the needs of the crop, incorporating technology into that which is helping us grow more consistent crops more economically and producing wholesome and nutritious foods that consumers are looking for,” Orsenigo said.
Encouraging the next generation to work in agriculture is important to Orsenigo. He supports FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program, which helps broaden young agriculture professionals’ understanding of the produce industry and prepares them for future FFVA involvement.
Orsenigo’s son, Derek Orsenigo, 30, also graduated from the University of Florida and is Grower’s Management’s sweet corn operations manager. David Basore’s son, Dave Basore, 22, works in leafy vegetable production while pursuing his education.
“Commitment and management by successive generations is critical,” the older Orsenigo said. “As we get older and have children who choose to go into a family business, the choice should be for the right reasons and to help advance and move forward the family business.”
Blackberries spelling year-round success for Wish Farms
In October, FFVA producer member Wish Farms announced it was expanding its year-round offerings of strawberries and blueberries to include blackberries.
How’s it going? Very well, thank you.
The Plant City-based operation founded in 1922 decided to get into the blackberry business at the request of its customers. “Since they buy strawberries and blueberries from us, it was natural for them to ask if we had blackberries and raspberries,” said Jose Saca, director of blackberry and raspberry operations at Wish Farms. “So the company made the decision earlier this year to provide blackberries and raspberries,” he said.
At this time, Wish Farms offers raspberries during the Mexican growing season from October to May, but one of the program’s goals is to offer them year-round as well.
“Blackberries are the perfect complement to our year-round berry program,” said Gary Wishnatzki, owner of Wish Farms. “In just one phone call, customers can now choose to order an assortment of berries.”
The Mexico blackberry season runs from the beginning of October to the end of May. Wish Farms then makes the transition to berries grown in Georgia, North Carolina and California.
“Unfortunately at this time, Florida is not a big blackberry producing state,” Saca said. “Maybe with new varieties coming from the University of Arkansas, that might change. We certainly are going to do some tests with Florida growers who are interested. Of course, we would love to have local production in Florida. At this time, blackberries are produced on only a few small patches for U-pick purposes.”
Saca says customers have accepted the blackberries with enthusiasm, and production and sales are more robust than he and his team had expected. “We’re at a point where customers are going to be demanding more. We’re probably going to sell 15 to 25 percent more than what we thought we could do,” he said.
And Saca said that although heavy rains made the Mexico season a challenge, Wish’s customers have faith in the company’s ability to provide quality product. “It’s been an easy job for me because the company has such a good reputation,” he said. “The customer trusts that we will provide not only quality product, but service as well. That’s very important in the industry. The staff follows through if there are any issues, deliveries are on time – we try to meet the customer’s demands on anything they want. We bend over backward to please our customers.”
Learn more about Wish Farms’ blackberries on the blackberry page of the company’s website.
Producer Profile: Generation Farms – helping generations of families grow stronger
Generation Farms comprises three farms that, working together, strive to be the premier vegetable and fruit supplier for the East Coast. The entity includes third-generation operation Coggins Farms, which began in 1945. Stanley Farms began growing Vidalia onions in 1975, although family patriarch R.T. Stanley began farming as a sharecropper in 1964. A third, Suwanee farms, was founded in 1979 in the Suwannee River Basin and expanded into other areas of Florida and Georgia.
They work to bring “the freshest produce to market faster, and help to promote sustainable farming practices,” said Jamie Brannen, a new member of the FFVA board of directors and general manager of produce for Generation Farms.
Generation Farms grows a wide variety of seasonal and year-round produce. A star in its show is onions. For more than three generations, the Stanley family has run one of the most respected onion-growing and processing operations in the South. Their growers bring a legacy of high-quality processing and operational management to Generation Farms’ crop—not to mention some of the most delicious onions east of the Mississippi River.
The operation is also the largest grower, packer and shipper of carrots on the East Coast, allowing it to accommodate orders of any size or variety. With three generations of carrot-growing expertise, the Coggins family name is synonymous with quality produce throughout the Southeast.
“We begin the year with carrots coming out of the Gainesville area and move to the Madison County area. We also have sweet potatoes and green beans from these same areas,” Brannen said. “We move up a little to around Jennings for onions and blueberries.” The farms also grow kale and watermelons.
Generation Farms boasts the largest organic acreage on the East Coast as well.
Among the operation’s priorities are food safety and sustainability. It is committed to delivering the highest possible food safety standards in every part of its operation. All facilities and farms are audited by third parties against one or more Global Food Safety Initiative schemes. Certification under the GFSI auditing schemes requires the Generation Farms team to be constantly prepared for an inspection.
As far as sustainability, the operation is keenly focused on conserving and protecting precious water resources. “We’re implementing and pursuing a number of innovative water management activities,” said Brannen. “Specifically, we have processes in place to use third-party water and land professionals to assess projects before implementing to make sure we are using best agricultural practices for the environment.
“It’s encouraging to see a company put their money where their mouth is. We hear about both food safety and sustainability all the time from companies all across produce, and a lot of times it’s just marketing. But at Generation Farms we fully utilize our resources to be the best we can be in both areas,” Brannen said.
All that work takes good people at all levels. “I think our greatest challenge is labor. We grow crops that are very hands-on and take a lot of people. Potatoes, onions and berries are all hand-harvested and managing that many people can be very challenging,” Brannen said.
In spite of the challenges of maintaining such high standards, it’s rewarding. Brannen said they are committed to living up to their mission.
“Our mission at Generation Farms is to help generations of families grow stronger through access to quality food,” Brannen said.
Learn more about Generation Farms at generationfarms.com.
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