When was the last time you went to the store and thought about the effort that went into the fruits and vegetables you are buying? Florida agriculture is an essential pillar of the United States’ food security as a top producer of this nation’s food. It is a 146 million dollar industry in Florida, only 2nd to tourism. Recently, I had the opportunity to get a first-hand look at the hard work these Florida farmers are doing to provide healthy, sustainable food to the population. Here is why you need to pay attention to Florida agriculture.
About The Trip
The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association invited me on a two-day tour of 6 farms close to the Tampa Bay area. The tours consisted of different types of farms that helped paint a high-level overview of Florida agriculture and the issues they face. In addition, we were accompanied by Gene McAvoy, an expert in the area of agriculture from the Univerity of Florida. The farms we visited included:
WM G. Roe & Sons (Noble Citrus)
Noble Citrus is a family-owned farm that is the top producer of tangerines in America. They’ve been working on their latest creation, the Juicy Crunch tangerine that has the highest Brix (sweetness) seen in a tangerine, for over 30 years. During the pandemic, they gave back to the community through the farm to families program by providing a food box to families in need. You can find their tangerines in Publix, Whole Foods, Sprouts, H.E.B, and Piggly Wiggly.
Dundee Citrus Growers- Florida Peaches
Show of hands who knew Florida grew peaches? I know I didn’t! The Florida peach is compact in nature but packs a punch of flavor. They sneak in right before the other peaches hit the stores. You can find them at the end of March! They meticulously hand-harvest these peaches to make sure they are the best product for the consumer. Look for them in Walmart and Winn Dixie stores!
Hardee Fresh is an innovative indoor vertical farm that is the largest USDA-certified organic farm of this nature. With their temperature-controlled ventilation system, they can grow fresh herbs and vegetables 24/7. Their vegetables are full of flavor and last longer! Plus, everything is grown in-house. Look for the Hardee Fresh label in stores!
Florida Pacific Farms
In conjunction with the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, we toured Florida Pacific Farms. It was refreshing to see a young farmer passionate about his craft, and he says it gives him a sense of freedom. He currently has 30 acres of blueberries, and you can find them under the Driscoll label.
Fancy Farm Inc
Fancy Farm’s Inc. is located in plant city, and they are all about strawberries! They are a family-owned farm that produces for Wish Farms. They offer different strawberry varieties bred through a selection process from The University of Florida, including:
- Florida sweet sensation- paler and orange but sweet!
- Florida brilliant- red because of the color
- Florida pine released next year
Just because a strawberry isn’t deep red doesn’t mean it is not sweet! You can also visit their farm market and participate in their U-Pick offerings periodically.
Wish farms works with growers to bring consumers the top quality berries. I got to see firsthand their production process to package and distribute berries right to your grocery store. Not only do they work with the best farmers, but they are driving innovation to help solve grower problems. Stay tuned for their state-of-the-art strawberry picker!
What I learned
Agriculture is just as important as the top issues we vote for during the elections. Think about everything that is grown so we can survive? Why is it we care about cruelty-free makeup, fast fashion, pure cotton paper products, etc…. but do not take time to research where our food comes from?
I had the opportunity to discuss firsthand with the agriculture industry members to see what I could do as a consumer to support them. Panelists included: Chef Justin from Fresh from Florida, Brittany Lee of The Florida Blueberry Growers Association, Susan Harrell of Fresh Florida Strawberries, Gene from The University of Florida, and The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. We discussed in depth the top concerns regarding Florida agriculture and why you should pay attention.
In general, American farmers are silently battling with our neighbors in fair trade of their commodities. Although the stores are buying the products at a lower price, they sell them for the same price. What does that mean for consumers?
You might be buying a product that does not have the same regulations as the United States, and you are simultaneously putting American growers out of business. In addition, a domestic food supply is essential. What happens if there is another pandemic-like situation? We must have food available within our borders. What can you do? Look before you buy.
- Look for “Fresh From Florida” or USA labels.
- Eat at home and make healthy options.
- Focus on the taste over the aesthetics
Population and Agriculture
Brittany from FBGA states, “Once agriculture leaves, it is not coming back.” Think about that. With the growing metropolitan areas, people are inching closer to farmland. This comes with a responsibility for the new neighbors of these farms. They were there first. Stop making it harder for the people who produce our food by complaining about how they operate their business. Know what you’re signing up for and be a good neighbor. We must do our best to preserve our farmlands. It helps protect air quality, wetlands, and watersheds. Preserving farmland helps the environment!
Did you know 80% of products farmers use are also used in organic farming? The main goal of growers is to leave the land better than they found it. Instead of harmful insecticides, farmers rely on the repellent nature of plastic covering. This mimics the look of water for insects as camouflage for plants. Finally, they are moving away from wasteful watering practices and using drip irrigation. This helps conserve water for our communities.
What they want you to know
Think about it. Right now, the world’s population is about 7 billion people, and by 2050 there will be an estimated 9 billion. Who is responsible for feeding the population? It’s eye-opening that only 2% of the people are working hard to feed all of us. Agriculture has an important place in the economy that we need to pay attention to. It’s the only renewable resource. Support your local growers by buying local.
A special thank you to the sponsors of this trip:
- Ag Communicators of Florida
- Florida Blueberry Growers Association (FBGA)
- Florida Department of Agriculture – Florida Peaches
- Wish Farms