Updated 12 months ago
Keep tariffs on imported produce.
Aggressive spending on citrus greening and canker research to fight the diseases that threaten to destroy the industry in Florida.
At Palmetto Creek Farms in Highlands County, the hogs don't eat slop, they don't live in crates and they nurse their piglets under big shade trees. "Yes, the pigs are happy, but the farmer's happy too," says owner Jim Woods. "It's a nice way of life."
But it's not, generally, the way to make a living producing pork, which has become all but impossible in Florida between urbanization, the disappearance of USDA-certified slaughterhouses and industrialization. Some 98% of the bacon and chops sold in Florida these days comes from out-of-state corporate hog farms, says Frankie Hall of the Florida Farm Bureau.
A small group of Florida and Georgia hog farmers, including Woods, is trying to change that. Their Madison Pork cooperative wants to tap two fast-growing consumer trends: Eating locally and eating all natural.
A renaissance of farmers markets in cities across Florida -- there are now more than 70 weekly markets statewide -- shows growing demand for local produce and meat. Shortening the time and distance between farm and dinner table saves the fuel it takes to ship lettuce from California or pork from Iowa. Fresher food also has more nutrient value, and consumers, says Hall, "feel good about supporting local farmers."
Pork promotion: Jim Woods and other hog farmers have formed the Madison Pork cooperative to promote local farmers. To check out Woods' local pork offerings, go to bestpork.us.
This year, watch for more new farmers markets opening around the state. You'll also see more locally produced meats and produce on fine-restaurant menus and on the shelves of mainstream supermakets, including Sweetbay.
The Madison Pork cooperative is one of several efforts by the University of Florida's IFAS Small Farms & Alternative Enterprises' Program to try to help farmers stay in business and preserve Florida's agricultural heritage.
"The midsized farmer is gone, and we now have the big guys and the small guys," says IFAS extension agent Bob Hochmuth.
Increasing demand for local food could help the small guys, but infrastructure and other economy-of-scale issues remain a challenge. Madison Pork is pooling resources for consumer surveys, marketing and meat processing at a USDA-certified facility in south Georgia.
Marketplace: Interest is growing in weekly farmers markets offering locally grown produce -- like this one in downtown St. Petersburg.
? Local farmers throughout the state are working to bring everything from shiitake mushrooms to free-range eggs to community markets.
To find a market near you, click on florida-agriculture.com/ consumers/farmers_markets.htm.
? The market for kosher foods is expanding in Florida, where more than 450 companies produce or sell kosher goods. The "kosher from Florida" logo program, endorsed by the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, helps Florida growers and makes it easier for consumers to find kosher foods.
Products produced in state and approved by a nationally recognized kashrut-certifying organization are eligible for the logo.
Volusia County fern grower John Hoblick replaces Carl B. Loop of Jacksonville as Florida Farm Bureau president.
Loop retired from the state's largest agricultural organization after 23 years as president.
People to Watch
Dave and Rick Brown
Owners, Riverview Flower Farm
The brothers started their nursery on 3 acres south of Tampa in 1982. Today, they grow their "Florida Friendly Plants" on 127 acres in three locations.
Riverview Flower Farm conducted more than 10,000 trials to see how flowers and plants fared in the Florida weather and how well they resisted disease and pests.
From the trials, the Browns selected 30 perennials and 10 ornamental grasses for their "Florida Friendly" line, which is now stocked in more than 100 Home Depots from Gainesville to Key West.
As many as 600,000 seasonal farmworkers harvest Florida's crops. The state's farmers maintain there is no domestic workforce capable of doing the job.
Republican Agricultural Commissioner Charles Bronson says he'll continue to lobby for "meaningful" immigration reform that allows immigrant farmworkers to earn the right to permanently stay in the country if they continue to work in agriculture.