From small, family-owned companies to nationwide supermarket chains, Florida agriculture encompasses industries of all sizes with the goal of promoting Florida-grown and -produced products. Whether selling a product, helping agricultural entrepreneurs, advocating for local companies, promoting agritourism or highlighting an important commodity, the diversity within the state keeps agriculture innovative and progressive. Learn more about a sampling of the different industries that make up Florida agriculture below:
1. Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company
The freshest juice in the industry – that’s the goal and commitment of Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company.
Founded by Marygrace Sexton 27 years ago and named for her daughter, Natalie, this company markets its product as a “clean label” juice company that hand-selects the fruits and vegetables for its products. All of the juices are natural and healthy.
Marygrace came up with the idea for the company in her family’s orange grove while pulling Natalie in a red wagon. Her husband had always wanted to start a juice company but he was busy running the farm, so she began working toward the shared dream. Located in Fort Pierce, the company landed its first major account in 1990 and is now available in 33 stores and 41 countries.
From orange to cranberry to tangerine, the juices are delicious and wholesome. The company has also introduced flavor combinations such as Carrot Ginger. All products are free of GMOs, concentrates, flavor packs, artificial ingredients and preservatives. The company also strives for a small carbon footprint – using recyclable bottles and feeding the fruit and vegetable remnants to cattle.
2. Little Rock Cannery
Helping Home Canners
When the Little Rock Cannery first opened its doors in the mid-1970s, its mission was simple – to assist Florida residents in preparing fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood to be jarred. Today, that mission still stands as the Little Rock Cannery provides numerous resources to the community.
Canning food is a process that involves putting food into jars and other small containers and then heating them to a temperature that destroys any microorganisms that may cause food to spoil. During the heating process, air is expelled from the jar, and as it cools, a vacuum seal is formed.
Little Rock Cannery in Hernando County serves as a resource to the community by aiding residents in their own canning process. With the capacity to pressure can up to 96 jars at once, people can now safely store their food for 12 to 18 months. Additionally, the cannery allows members to prepare foods to be canned in a commercially equipped kitchen onsite.
Little Rock Cannery is compliant with the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Standards and employs trained professionals to be on hand to assist new and seasoned canners alike.
3. Fresh From Florida Partnerships
Supermarkets Support Local Ag
Fresh From Florida proudly partners with a variety of food retailers, restaurants and community farms to promote Florida-grown agriculture. Food retailers Publix and Walmart partner with Fresh From Florida to promote local agricultural products and farmers.
Publix Supermarkets, which opened its very first store in Winter Haven, goes to great lengths to make sure that both meat and produce products in their stores maintain the highest-quality standards, meaning that they are usually sourced locally. Publix supports local agriculture in the state by sourcing produce items from ABC Farms, Raley Groves and Wish Farms in order to provide customers with the highest-quality product at peak freshness, especially in the cold winter months when other states are not able to yield quality products.
Walmart, a big proponent of the local-food movement, announced a new initiative in 2010 in which the chain vowed to double the sale of locally sourced produce in their stores across the nation by 2015. Part of the plan was to deliver produce from farms to the store shelves by purchasing directly from growers, which increases the shelf life of produce, cuts out the middlemen between farmers and the corporation, and promotes sustainability across the state. Additionally, Walmart has maintained close working relationships with both state departments of agriculture and local farmers to help develop and revitalize growing areas across the country, like cilantro in Southern Florida.
4. The Breakers’ Green Market
Offering Local Options
In 2001, The Breakers Resort in Palm Beach launched its own local-food movement. Established in response to a downturn in tourism following 9/11 and the vast quality difference in locally sourced produce, the Green Market provides employees and guests with locally sourced options.
The market, which was launched by Rich Hawkins, director of Materials Management at The Breakers, is part of the corporate philosophy to meet the wellness needs of employees and serve as a team-building experience in which employees of various departments staff the market.
Following the Green Market’s success, Hawkins and his associate, Geoffrey Sagans, created Localecopia, a nonprofit organization that works with farmers who grow produce to support the local economy and initiate sustainable practices across Florida. The programs have expanded to include two trucks that travel to collect fresh produce and deliver it directly to customers.
Some Florida farmers have their eye on the country’s blossoming beer-brewing market. The demand for locally cultivated craft beer is sweeping the nation, yet the availability of hops, which are the vining plants that provide the building blocks of a beer’s aroma and flavor, are relatively nonexistent in the state.
Dr. Brian Pearson, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, set out to turn the notion that Florida weather was too hot and humid on its head and began doing research on hop production in the state. Now, the University of Florida is researching the local production of over a dozen hop varieties.
Nearly 97 percent of the U.S. hop crop is produced in three states – Washington, Oregon and Idaho. If Florida farmers can figure out how to successfully produce hops, the state would gain a competitive advantage by being able to have one of the earliest harvesting seasons in the country. Initial results of hop production are encouraging to Pearson and other researchers, but more research is still needed. In the meantime, local brewers, like First Magnitude Brewing Company in Gainesville, are utilizing other local means of production, like sourcing water from Florida’s natural springs to use during the brewing process.
6. Tapron Springs Sponge Docks
Natural Sea Sponges
Surrounded by water on nearly all sides, some of Florida’s richest bounties lie within the sea. One of these is the occurrence of natural sea sponges along the coast. Greek immigrants found that the waters of Tarpon Springs were rich with highly prized sponges.
George Billiris was a pioneer in the Florida sponging movement and helped to revitalize the industry after a waterborne diseased ravaged the ecosystem in the 1940s. When he discovered regrowth in the 1970s, Billiris worked to promote the industry – producing more than 40 documentaries about sponging and, eventually, turning the Sponge Docks into a tourist attraction.
Today, the docks and the city are both popular destinations where visitors can visit the sponge beds.
7. Florida Dairy Farmers
For generations, more than 130 dairy-farming families in Florida have worked tirelessly to produce quality milk across the state. With nearly 277 million gallons of milk produced annually in Florida, the top-producing counties are Lafayette and Okeechobee, yet farmers across the state contribute to the industry.
Meghan Austin of Cindale Farms is a second-generation dairy farmer who cares for 467 acres of land in Marianna with the help of her husband and produces quality dairy products for her family’s wholesale ice cream business, Southern Craft Creamery.
Matt and Linda Lussier of Hawthorne left their corporate jobs in Vermont in the early 1990s and moved to Florida, where they began new careers as dairy farmers. To date, Lussier Dairy has nearly 600 cows and has been awarded with the Dairy Community Award.
Gary Keyes along with Johan and Trisha Heijkoop of Milk-A-Way Dairy in Webster and K&H Dairy in Mayo each have family ties to the dairy industry. Now with a herd of 1,300 cows, the Keyes and Heijkoop families work hard to produce a quality product.
8. Florida Equine Industry
Equine Boosts Economy
Over the years, Florida has become a major hub for the equine industry.
Marion County, the Horse Capital of the World, is home to the Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park, which is a 500-acre multipurpose facility and a premier venue for equine events. Nearly 75 percent of the more than 600 Thoroughbred farms and training centers in Florida are located in Marion County and most of the recent Kentucky Derby competitors had early training in Ocala. Nearly $3.5 billion are invested into Marion County each year for farms, training centers and breeding.
Florida is the second-largest horse-breeding region in the United States and is one of the top five regions in the world. Six horses bred in Florida have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, including Florida-bred Affirmed, who was the last Triple Crown Champion until American Pharoah in 2015, another Ocala-broken and-trained horse. Thoroughbred breeding and training farms cover more than 70,000 acres and Florida is the only North American jurisdiction to have an increase in foal crop for three straight years.