Importance of Farming
“Without agriculture, we’d be hungry, naked, and sober,” said Gene McAvoy of UF/IFAS (University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences).
Agriculture is a 140 billion dollar industry in Florida – second to tourism. Among the state’s population, 2% are farmers, and agricultural land spans 10 million acres. So, why don’t we think about these farmers more in our everyday lives?
The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association recently invited me to tour several farms in south Florida. Some may think, how exciting can a farm tour be? It was! I met farmers and agricultural experts who shared their knowledge, passion and struggles. To say it was an eye-opening experience would be an understatement.
After touring farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area in Palm Beach County, I realized I was pretty ignorant about the produce I was buying. I never thought about where my food came from; I’d pick up some tomatoes or ears of corn without glancing at the labels. In fact, when I returned from my trip, I looked inside my refrigerator to find several produce items from Mexico.
That has all changed. Through my experience, I hope to help educate others on the importance of buying fresh from Florida produce – or at least US-grown produce.
Farming plays a considerable role in our survival. We should be doing everything we can to support these farmers and their land. This message was reiterated throughout the tour, especially since many foreign produce items aren’t subject to the same health and safety protocols as produce grown in the United States. For example, some foreign countries are still using growing procedures that have been banned in the United States for years.
When it comes to food safety, Florida and US-grown crops are among the safest in the world. Farmers here see themselves as stewards of the land and make it a priority to maintain soil health, manage the nutrients, and monitor the water quality. Healthier soil equals healthier crops, period.
Now let me introduce you to the farmers who graciously welcomed us into their “homes.”
The tour began with a visit to Bedner’s Farm. The Bedners have been farming bell peppers and cucumbers in Palm Beach County since 1960 and distribute produce along the United States east coast. We visited the family’s 80-acre farm site that supports Bedner’s Farm Fresh Market and its two sister locations. Here, the family produces various crops, including bell peppers, eggplant, strawberries, and tomatoes, most of which are sold in their three markets. They also welcome guests to visit 8-acres of their U-Pick land.
A. Duda & Sons Farms
Celebrating its 97th anniversary, this 4th generation family farm is the largest producer of celery in the world. Out in the field, I was able to see a stalk of celery picked from the ground, trimmed and prepared for packaging. Then I got to taste it! Yum!
When harvesting celery, they look for: crispness, shelf life, color and taste/flavor profile.
R.C. Hatton Farms
This 8,000-acre farm grows multiple crops but is known for its sweet corn, green beans, cabbage and sugar cane. They provide the largest coleslaw, beans, and corn distribution to schools. Like all the farmers I met along the way, they rely on the land for their harvest. During harvesting season, days may begin at 5 a.m. and end at 8 p.m. Jonathan Allen, farm manager, has spent all night tending to the crops during the threat of a weather disaster.
“Farming is a profession you have to love and have pride in knowing you are helping feed the country.” – Eric Hopkins of Hundley Farms.
Founded in 1969, this family farm grows fresh, natural food from field to table. I can check several items off my bucket list after visiting Hundley Farms. I pulled sweet corn directly from the stalk, radish from the ground and ate them both in the field. I also witnessed radish being harvested. FYI: sweet corn straight from the field is AMAZING! This expansive farm also grows sugar cane, tomatoes, green beans, cabbage and more.
TKM Bengard Farms
The largest grower of lettuce east of the Mississippi, the farm is run by six brothers. They grow 15 types of lettuce and over 100 million pounds of iceberg lettuce each season. If you eat salad, there is a large chance you are eating lettuce from TKM Bengard Farms. “Everyone takes a lot of pride in what they do. It’s a large company, but family-run” – Michael Johnson, TKM Bengard Farms.
“Farming is a lifestyle. It’s not a job; you live it.” – Paul Orsenigo, President.
A second-generation family operation of leafy greens, lettuce and herb growers. The landscape of lettuce against the backdrop of the blue sky was breathtaking. Similarly, the smell of the fresh herbs took over the senses. You can sense the pride Paul Orsenigo and Derek Orsenigo have in what they do. They are passionate about introducing farming to a new generation of people who want to be in the production of crops.
I could go on and on about all the things I learned on this tour, but the most important thing I took away was the importance of supporting your local farmer. Check those labels and teach your children and others that food is not grown at the grocery store. A lot of hard work, heart and soul go into growing and harvesting the foods we eat, so next time think about #WhereYourFoodComesFrom.