Learn where your food is coming from in this in-depth article about Florida Agriculture and get the resources to learn even more. While this post is sponsored by the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, all opinions and my love of farmers is my own.
10 Things You Need To Know About Florida Agriculture
I have a huge appreciation for farmers. I always knew (well, kinda) that being a farmer was a hard job. But then I had the honor of visiting a Central Florida Dairy Farm last year and that appreciation grew deeper.
Agriculture is the 2nd largest industry in Florida, it is actually a $146 Billion (yes, BILLION with a B) industry and is second only to tourism.
Agriculture provides more than 1 million jobs.
Agriculture is the only completely renewable anything, on the planet.
Yet, only 2% of the population are farmers. And 97% of the farms in the United States are family-owned and operated.
Farming is truly a family business. What that means is that if they are growing strawberries, blueberries, citrus, cattle or fish they are also feeding their families those same products. YOU, ME, US, WE are an extension of their family. And without them, we wouldn’t have food.
Go ahead, re-read that. Now, let it soak in.
Can you imagine a life without food?
No, no one can. Because without food, we wouldn’t be here.
And I can only assume that we value our food and being able to make meals for our families, go out to dinner, buy clothes, drink wine, and have a cocktail. Well, we wouldn’t have any of those things without farmers.
To quote Gene McAvoy, who is an agronomic and horticultural production and marketing specialist with over fifty years experience, “Without agriculture we would all be hungry, naked and sober.” Which made me giggle, but if you think about it for a second, it is a factual statement. No farmers = no food, no cotton for clothes, and no produce for your favorite liquors and wines.
So, what do you need to know about Florida Agriculture?
- Those that are growing the food you eat only make up 2% of the population. Support them by buying local. By local I mean: buy from your local farmer, buy from your local farmers market, buy produce grown in your state, buy produce grown in the United States. Growers expect nothing from consumers, but they appreciate everything from consumers. Let’s work together collectively to show them we appreciate what their families do for ours.
- 97% of farms are family-owned and operated. That means they have families. That means they are growing for their families and ours. That means we are getting the highest quality produce, they would never hurt their families, they would never hurt ours. This is often referred to as food safety, when you are buying local, know that the produce is traveling less miles to get from farm to your family. In many situations, it is just 48 hours before produce leaves the farm until it can be your hands.
- Farming is a massive operation. We are talking a year-round business that takes a lot of time, a lot of care, a lot of science, a lot of work. Working in agriculture means that you are constantly battling the elements; from weather to learning about and combating new diseases. Greening has been affecting the citrus industry for over 15 years now. The farmer at Fancy Farms in Plant City let us know that there is a new disease every month that potentially threatens crops.
- Those in agriculture feel a calling to what they do. They believe that they should help feed the world. Farmers are optimistic, humble people, who are incredibly passionate about what they do. They believe that they should leave the land better than what they got it.
- There are over 60 varieties of produce that are grown here in Florida, so look for those Fresh From Florida labels and stickers that let you know they are grown here! Florida’s number one crop, oranges are an over $10 billion industry and you can find most of them in Polk County. Florida is actually one of the top 13 producers of beef.
- Florida has peaches! Yes, to try something that wasn’t affected by greening, Florida started producing peaches. And Florida peaches are the sweetest peaches you will ever try! Florida peach season is brief, it’s about 90 days, so don’t miss out. Florida peach season starts at the end of March and is only stone fruit available at that time. I had the opportunity to visit a peach farm on the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association tour and I have to say it was beautiful! Dundee Citrus Growers harvest around 4,000-5,000 Florida peaches per acre and they have about 75 acres overall. Florida peaches are hand harvested because they are so delicate and to help prevent bruising. Once Florida peaches are picked and they are cooled to slow the ripening process. Florida peach farmers, like other Florida farmers strive for 48 hours from picking to store. Florida peaches are sweeter and have outstanding flavor. This season there is supposed to be a 2lb peach pouch, which they will sell at Winn Dixie, that I can’t wait to get my hands on! You will also find Florida peaches at Walmart, and don’t be shy about asking Produce Managers at your other favorite retailers to carry them.
- Florida Dairy farmers work hand in hand with the citrus industry. Florida Dairy farmers recycle citrus pulp, brewers’ grain and whole cottonseed that are consumed by the cow, rather than going to a landfill. This provides the cows with nutrition.
- Growers rarely advocate for themselves, they are busy growing food for us. So, let’s help do it for them! Agriculture is so important, not just to us, but the world! Teach your children the importance of buying local, take them to u-pick farms if you can, you can also find resources online to help educate kids (and ourselves!). Florida Strawberry Growers Association has wonderful educational resources here.
- Domestic Food Security. I have talked about this a few times, I know, but it bares repeating. If we aren’t buying local produce, the growers can’t grow more, without growers producing food for us…we have no food! We have to be able to rely on our own country for food. It’s grown HERE, for US. Buy local my friends, buy local. If you order your groceries online, ask your shopper to only purchase Florida (or United States grown) produce. The best way to keep a grower on their land and growing is to simply make them profitable. BUY LOCAL. Have I mentioned how important it is to buy local yet? BUY LOCAL. Local to your town, your state, your country. KNOW WHERE YOUR FOOD COMES FROM.
- Sustainability is incredibly important to farming. They use drip irrigation to use approximately 1/3 of the water than they used to (remember those HUGE sprinkler systems you used to see??), packaging is recycled, they use a shiny plastic to scare away birds and insects, the list goes on and on.
I had the opportunity to visit six Central Florida farms and I wanted to share a bit about them and their products so that you can keep a look out for them in stores. Their passion and dedication to what they do honestly gives me goosebumps. Farmers are kinda of like unsung heroes, they do what they do for us, and we rarely stop to think about them and the work that’s involved.
The home of the JUICY CRUNCH and the largest producer of tangerines in the beautiful state of Florida. They plant about 550 trees per acre, which is actually very dense for citrus. Their harvest season starts with pummelos in early October, then follows autumn honey in mid November to December. Next is Juicy Crunch, which is available December – February. You HAVE to try these, I was lucky enough to get my hands on three and they were the sweetest, juiciest tangerines I have ever had. Next up is packing oranges, then go to blueberries, then valencia oranges. It is a 365 day a year business.
Home of Florida Peaches! And some incredibly amazing growers. They also have citrus 😉 Learn more about Florida Peaches. Florida peaches are in season late March – May.
I had the opportunity to see the only organic vertical farm in the country. Hardee Fresh started in 2017 because two people believed that it’s important that people know what they are getting when they purchase produce. Consumers can believe that it’s organic, consumers can believe exactly what the label on the produce package says. Being a vertical farm allows them to closely monitor…well, everything. Everything from the humidity in the air to the amount of light and heat that their 8,000 lights give off. They are continually exploring renewable energy and are looking to expand from their 5 lettuces, kale, chard and herbs to peppers and some berries.
At Hardee Fresh you can expect that your organic lettuce and herbs will be in the cooler 20 minutes from being picked. Those products are watched from seed to truck. Hardee Fresh believes in safety, quality, consistency, and sustainability. They are very innovative and believe in their employees and helping them to further their careers.
Florida Pacific Farms – Florida Blueberries
I actually had the opportunity to spend time with Brittany Lee of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association as well as a local farmer at Florida Pacific. Florida Pacific Farms has approximately 30 acres blueberries. Blueberries can take 70-80 days, from closed flower to blueberry. As with most fruit, sweetness is key. Blueberry plants can produce great produce for up to 10 years or longer.
Florida Blueberry season is April and May.
This is where I had the most incredible strawberry shortcake! Fancy Farms is a small, 125 acre farm that has been family-owned and operated since 1974. They focus on planting mostly strawberries. They start preparing the ground in August, make beds in September (which includes testing nutrients), then they plant October 1st, start harvesting in November. Starting December 1st they are super busy..picking berries daily, nonstop.
They do have several varieties to keep a look out for: Florida Sweet Sensation (sweeter and orange is color), Florida Brilliance is super red, the Pineberry and the Medallion. They believe that they are “Providing smiles to people with fresh produce” 🙂 Florida Strawberry season is December through March.
Did you know that Wish Farms started in the early 1900s? Yes! Wish Farms is another family business that is continually testing technology and looking for ways to be 100% sustainable. Yes, 100% sustainable. The current CEO started working there in 1974. Wish Farms produces and sells all of your favorite berries: strawberries blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Wish Farms is very innovative, in fact, they are testing ways to reduce labor costs with the use of technology.
When picking up a container of Wish Farms berries, be sure to scan the QR code on the label. When you do, it will tell you what grower the berries came from. How cool is that?! Wish Farms does ship all over the US.
I also love that Wish Farms is working on finding use for berries that don’t make it to the market, like right now they are trying Pixie Snax. They combine the berries with natural sweeteners to make organic, delicious snacks. Some Wish Farms berries actually ship to stores the same day they are picked!!
The Wish Farms warehouse is 120,000 square feet with 20,000 ft solar on roof now and they are actually looking to add more. Sustainable.
Be sure you know where your food comes from.
Here is a fantastic (and free) printable from Fresh From Florida that shows you which Florida crops are in season when. Be sure to print it out and put it on your refrigerator! And if you are looking for recipes to go along with the Fresh From Florida produce, you can find lots on the Fresh From Florida website as well as here on my blog 😉
I learned so many things and meet so many amazing people on my tour with the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. So much more than I could possibly put into just one post, but you will continually see mentions and I will continue to share things I learned and my love for farmers and agriculture here on the blog. In fact, this tour inspired me to get a Nutrition and Healthy Living Certification. I start classes in March with Cornell. Farmers are truly inspiring people, I challenge you to thank a farmer…whether it be by making a purchase or simply saying “Thank You.”