Photo: Betsy Hansen
Florida Icon: Former farmer of the year Lynetta Usher Griner
Logging executive, cattle rancher, Levy County; age 65
After law school, I opened a practice in Chiefland, and that’s when 32 years ago my brother, Tommy, who was the only son in the family, was killed in a boating accident on the Suwannee River. At that point, my dad had turned the business over to Tommy, but it became obvious to me and my husband, Ken, that we had to step in to keep the family business and operations going. So Ken sold his car dealership and I closed my law practice, and here we are now, loggers and cattle producers, which hadn’t been on our radar at the time. But looking back, we feel like we’re where we should be and have no regrets about the decisions we made.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that the last crop we’ll grow in Florida is a house, and I just don’t want that for our state. I want to maintain our wild lands as they are.
My father’s father came to Levy County during the height of the turpentine era. He had turpentine leases all over the county and went around and collected the sap from pine trees and cooked it down for the resin that was used in ship building and that kind of thing. That evolved into what we have today, which is our logging business. The turpentine business died out, and the sawmills came in.
Agriculture has got to have a seat at the table when you’re talking about climate change. I’m co-chair with Jim Strickland of the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Group. It’s a group of producers who are talking about what we can do to address climate change and still stay in business.
We’re focused on ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are all those benefits that agricultural lands provide, such as water filtration, water storage, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, oxygen generation. We provide so many things that Floridians are dependent upon. To me, we have to start paying landowners for those services, so those lands are not paved over or built over by development because once you do that, those lands are no longer filtering the water that’s so precious and vital to every Floridian.
Between the river and the woods and the Gulf, we’ve got everything you could ask for right here in Levy County.
I enjoyed being an attorney, but it was right about the time that Tommy was killed that the Florida Bar allowed attorneys to start advertising. And, in my opinion, allowing that has changed the profession and not for the good.
Wood pulp is used in all different kinds of products, everything from toilet paper and paper towels to the screen on your cell phone, which also contains a pulp product. A lot of people don’t realize that going digital is not necessarily saving a pine tree.
I talk about growing up and having fond memories of my family, but the school system, too, had a huge impact on me. I can name every one of my teachers from first grade on. All of them were so instrumental in helping mold me into what I am today. The Levy County school system was a huge part of our lives.
We still talk about Tommy a lot. We try to honor his memory through scholarships, and there’s a community center here in Chiefland called the Tommy Usher Community Center. It’s very gratifying to know that his name lives on in many ways.
I don’t know if you’ve ever read A Land Remembered, but that’s a great book about Florida.
We have to get the message out that agriculture matters. That’s why we open the gates of our farm all the time to people who don’t know what we do and don’t know how important it is. People are so far removed from the land that it’s hard to get the message through. We had a young couple with four children, just moved from New Hampshire, and they wanted to see the farm. I took them there one day when we were branding calves and working the cattle. They got to pet the bulls and ride a horse and all that. Well, we have this ladder that you climb to jump on to a rope swing and these kids, they’re all under the age of 9, they had never seen anything like it, and they couldn’t figure out how to do it. So I said, ‘I’ll show you,’ and I climbed the ladder about 10 feet, slipped and fell and had four fractures in my pelvis area. But here we were just trying to introduce one family to Florida — the real Florida in our eyes — because they had no clue. I’m doing well now. I’m walking. My doctor has not released me to go water-skiing yet, but later. I’m a big water-skier!
We live in Fanning Springs, along the Suwannee River, and a sturgeon expert came and talked to our rotary club and said there’s a deep trough in the river, right by where we live, and that there are about 9,000 sturgeons swimming right off our dock. Sometimes, you can sit out there and it sounds like popcorn popping, the sturgeons are jumping so quickly.
Farmers and ranchers operate on very thin margins, so financially I think we’d be better off to sell out, bank the money, and live off the interest, but that’s just not who we are. We love what we do.
Read more in Florida Trend's November issue.
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