All posts by Rachael Smith

Digital Media Coordinator

SUMMARY: Success in this full-time position requires that the employee must be a self-motivated individual who possesses the ability to write clear prose, excellent computer skills, a mastery of desktop publishing software and a sound understanding of contemporary news media. The employee must also be able to perform well within a dynamic professional office environment. The Digital Media Coordinator reports to the Communications Manager.

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:

Primary Duties

Creates and posts items daily to Florida Farm Bureau Federation’s social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube

Coordinates FFBF’s comprehensive social media platform schedules and conducts extensive analysis on monthly metrics, reporting findings to the Public Relations Division

 Develops video content and graphics as needed for social media

Creates social media toolkits for county Farm Bureau volunteer leaders and for recurring, state-wide events

Maintains digital photo library of FFB event photos and assists in organizing FFBF’s digital assets

Assists in the development of branded emails and templates for company-wide email platforms and conference/meeting electronic forms

Updates the Florida Farm Bureau main website and the FloridAgriculture website

Distributes FloridAgricutlure monthly eNewsletter

Develops and edits podcasts

Conducts PR social media workshops to county Farm Bureau leaders

Monitors innovations in electronic communications and reports on these developments to the Public Relations Division

Utilizes communication monitoring software to recognize industry trends, discover related editorial content and analyze the publicity value of FFBF’s digital and editorial efforts

Represents Farm Bureau at state and county events as media personnel

Serves as a staff photographer

Secondary Duties

Prepares original articles for the FFBF website, e-newsletter and other media produced or managed by the Public Relations Division

Assists the Director of Public Relations in the preparation of plans for website development, Farm Bureau event promotions and other division projects

Provides research assistance on assigned topics

Assists in proofreading items for the Public Relations Division

Serves as the office A/V equipment operator at various FFBF meetings

Performs other duties, as assigned

EDUCATION and/or EXPERIENCE:

Four-year college degree (major study in journalism, public relations or related discipline preferred) or an equivalent combination of education and experience

QUALIFICATION REQUIREMENTS:

Ability to use the tools of Microsoft Office suite, including Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint

Proven ability to use WordPress

Proven ability to use Adobe Creative Suite programs, especially Photoshop and Illustrator desktop publishing software for the layout and design of original content, along with InDesign and Premiere Pro.

Ability to write clear prose for publication

Superior interpersonal relationship skills

A working knowledge of emerging media

A willingness to build upon existing skills and develop new ones in the position

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS:

Must be able to travel within the state or elsewhere.

LANGUAGE SKILLS:

Must be able to read and interpret documents. Proficiency in writing letters, news articles and press releases must be demonstrated with completed work. Must be able to make presentations before both professional and non-professional audiences.

MATHEMATICAL SKILLS:

Must have a knowledge of basic mathematical concepts and be able to apply them in various tasks of calculation and computation.

REASONING ABILITY:

Must be able to solve practical problems and operate with a number of variables in situations that are not determined by standard, repetitive arrangements. Must possess the ability to interpret a variety of instructions furnished in written, oral, diagram or schedule form.

PHYSICAL DEMANDS:

The physical actions expressly stated or implied above are representative of the kinds of demands that must be met by the employee to perform in this position successfully. Reasonable accommodations may be made so that individuals with disabilities may be enabled to carry out the essential functions.

While performing the duties of this job, the employee is regularly required to sit, use hands to finger, handle or feel objects, tools and controls and see, talk and hear. The employee is occasionally required to reach with hands or arms. The employee is occasionally required to stand, walk, stoop, kneel, crouch and/or crawl. The employee must use a computer keyboard and view a screen.

The employee must frequently lift or move up to 10 pounds. Specific vision requirements required by this job include close-up vision and the ability to adjust focus.

NO PHONE CALLS PLEASE

APPLY NOW

The above statements are intended to describe the general nature and level of work being performed.  They are not intended to be construed as an exhaustive list of all the essential duties, responsibilities and requirements of personnel

Cultivating Tomorrow: Hardee County Farm Bureau President Steve Johnson

July 2021 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Hardee County Farm Bureau President Steve Johnson is a fourth generation farmer from Wauchula. He and his wife, Andrea, a fifth generation farmer, live in the same house that Steve grew up in. They have three children, B.J., Emma Jane and Laney.

Steve and Andrea produce beef cattle, citrus and custom harvesting  in Hardee and Manatee Counties under Treeair Cattle Company and Johnson Harvesting, Inc.

This December will mark two years that Johnson has served as president of Hardee County Farm Bureau, though his involvement in Farm Bureau goes back to 2002. “Andy Neuhofer is the District Field Representative for our area and he was the one that encouraged me to join,” said Johnson.

“Over the years I have served on the county board of directors, as secretary and as vice president,” he added.

In addition, Johnson has dedicated 14 years to serving on the Florida Farm Bureau State Board of Directors where he currently sits as vice president.

Johnson explained that it’s the people in Farm Bureau that you come to know that make it special. “It’s nice to get to know like-minded folks, people you can depend on for life,” he said.

Each year, in November, Hardee County Farm Bureau holds the annual Ag Fest. The event has been held at the Hardee County Cattleman’s Arena in Wauchula. It is an opportunity for elementary school students to learn about agriculture first-hand from local farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers and wildlife specialists.

“We have been doing this event for over 20 years,” Johnson mentioned. “We bring in roughly 400 4th graders, feed them and teach them over about a 6-7 hour period about local agriculture through 20 different stations from milking cows, citrus,  hay production, row crop production and even the phosphate miners come in to present.”

“Agricultural technology is constantly changing,” he added. “It’s important to have youth understand the changes and adapt to them. It’s possible to grow more on less land and we need to get them excited about agriculture. What they are doing today can make a difference for years to come.”

 

Area Lawmakers Recognized for Legislative Leadership

July 2021 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Each year, Florida Farm Bureau recognizes state legislators who play a significant role in advancing bills that support Florida farms and ranches and advocate for Florida agriculture.

In the 2021 legislative session, the Right to Farm Bill, Florida Farm Bureau’s top priority, passed by overwhelming margins in both the House and the Senate, emphasizing the strong bipartisan support of SB 88, Farming Operations.

Florida Farm Bureau is recognizing the House and Senate sponsors of the Right to Farm Bill as its 2021 Legislators of the Year. Fourteen other members of the legislature will also be recognized as Champions for Agriculture because of their efforts to support specific aspects of the organization’s legislative agenda.

Legislators of the Year

Sen. Jason Brodeur and Rep. Jayer Williamson provided profound leadership by sponsoring the Right to Farm Bill that modernizes Florida’s Right to Farm Act, protecting farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits. SB 88 is now the strongest Right to Farm legislation in the country.

“This bill is extremely important for Florida farmers and ranchers who are facing a multitude of challenges each day,” said John L. Hoblick, President of Florida Farm Bureau Federation.

“The fact that this potentially controversial bill passed by such wide margins gives credit to the leadership, commitment and hard work of both Sen. Brodeur and Rep. Williamson. I’m honored to recognize them for their support of Florida Farm Bureau’s priority bill this year.”

Champions for Agriculture

Florida Farm Bureau is recognizing 14 additional lawmakers as its 2021 Champions for Agriculture. These policy leaders advocated on issues vital to Florida agriculture.

“There are a lot of moving pieces in the legislative process and in order to be successful as an organization, we rely on legislative champions who sponsor the bills, file the amendments, chair the committees and take the tangible actions that result in a bill being passed,” said Adam Basford, Florida Farm Bureau’s legislative affairs director.

“There are so many legislators that have shown support for Farm Bureau’s priorities, but this is our attempt to thank a few who took specific action this year to get bills across the finish line.”

The following 2021 Champions for Agriculture provided leadership on key agricultural issues that significantly impact farming and the Florida economy:

Senate

  • Sen. Ben Albritton
  • Sen. Jason Brodeur
  • Sen. Jim Boyd
  • Sen. Darryl Rouson
  • Senate President Wilton Simpson

House

  • Rep. Kevin Chambliss
  • Rep. Chuck Clemons
  • Rep. Andrew Learned
  • Rep. Lawrence McClure
  • Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka
  • Rep. Toby Overdorf
  • Rep. Chris Sprowls
  • Rep. Josie Tomkow
  • Rep. Dana Trabulsy
  • Rep. Kaylee Tuck
  • Rep. Jayer Williamson

This is Your FedPAC

July 2021 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Elections have consequences. This is now readily apparent with the current political commentary – tax-and-spend proposals that will cripple family farms if implemented.

That’s why Florida Farm Bureau Federation needs your help. Florida Farm Bureau is the custodian of your federal PAC, which financially backs our pro-agriculture candidates and members of Congress.

About FedPAC

Through the years, FedPAC has supported our champions in the halls of Congress. From Adam Putnam to Alcee Hastings, FedPAC has helped those who have prioritized the Florida farmer and fought for private property rights, fair trade and labor laws, and cutting unneeded red tape. In the 2020 election cycle, FedPAC contributed to 13 of our friends in Congress, Republican and Democrat, totaling over $16,000! As we look toward the 2022 elections, and beyond to the 2023 Farm Bill, we must continue to support our friends through FedPAC – but we need the funds to do so. You have the ability to help in this cause as an active member.

Every election matters, but with razor thin margins currently, the next election will be crucial to preserving the family farm and Florida agriculture. Please consider donating to FedPAC today.

Instructions to Donate: Please write a personal* check to “FedPAC” and mail to the attention of FFBF National Affairs, P.O. Box 147030, Gainesville, FL 32614.

*By law, FedPAC is prohibited from accepting corporate donations.

 

FFBF FedPAC is a registered federal political action committee. FFBF FedPAC collects contributions from members to be used for political purposes, including the promotion of good federal government on behalf of all taxpayers, farmers, rural families and agricultural interests of the state of Florida. Contributions to FFBF FedPAC are voluntary and are not a requirement of membership in any county Farm Bureau or the Florida Farm Bureau Federation.

Prior to contributing to the FFBF FedPAC, I am aware: 1) that contributions to the PAC will be used in connection with federal elections and are subject to the prohibitions and limitations of the Federal Election Campaign Act; 2) of my right to refuse to contribute without reprisal; 3) that the guidelines for contributing are merely suggestions. I may contribute more or less than the suggested guidelines or nothing at all and I will not be favored or disadvantaged by reason of the amount of my contribution or my decisions not to contribute; 4) that contributions to the PAC are not deductible for federal income tax purposes; 5) that contributions from government contractors are prohibited; 6) that I must be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident Alien to make a contribution.

Federal law prohibits corporate contributions to FFBF FedPAC. The maximum annual contribution for an individual is $5,000. Any ineligible FFBF FedPAC contribution (such as a contribution drawn from a corporate account or a contribution in excess of federal limits) will be returned. Federal law requires us to use best efforts to collect and report the name, mailing address, occupation and the name of employer of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in a calendar year.

Land Grant Partner

July 2021 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

It all started with the carrot trucks that roll through the Suwannee Valley. There are enough of them that they got the attention of a congressional aide who asked John Walt Boatright where they were coming from.

John Walt told him “Glad you asked” and said he’d set up a visit for the congressman to a carrot farm. As soon as they finished their grits and eggs and left the Dixie Grill, John Walt called his high school agriculture teacher. De Townsend, the teacher, has since become De Broughton, the UF/IFAS Extension regional specialized agent for row crops.

De, in turn, called the carrot farmers she knows best—her father and her uncle. Congressman Neal Dunn got his appointment to walk the rows. John Walt invited another important mentor and one of the region’s foremost carrot experts—Bob Hochmuth—to the meeting.

As a kid, John Walt got his first exposure to production agriculture through school field trips to what is now called North Florida Research and Education Center—Suwannee Valley (NFREC-SV), where Bob is assistant director. John Walt invited Bob to meet the congressman at the carrot farm to pitch a proposal to boost research into alternative crops that will shape the Congressional District 2 farm of the future.

Bob invited Rep. Dunn for a second farm visit—to NFREC-SV—and Dunn accepted Rep. Dunn saw and tasted a lot (including a lunch catered by the Dixie Grill supplemented by Bob’s tomatoes and cucumbers) in the three hours we had with him. The representative paid close attention, asked important questions and even hopped up onto the back of a carrot harvester with Bob.

Because the Capitol was closed off to lobbyists during the pandemic, John Walt had to do a lot of advocating for Florida farmers in D.C. without going to D.C. Nor was he able to organize the annual “Field to the Hill” Florida farmer delegation to deliver constituents to legislators’ offices. So he’s turned that on its head and proceeded with a strategy that FFBF President John Hoblick calls “Hill to the Field.”

The event exemplified the great land-grant trifecta—academia, government and industry. That partnership is lived out through its people—faculty, feds and farmers. It’s us educating John Walt (his degree is from our College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Department of Food and Resource Economics), and John Walt arranging for elected officials to visit our facilities to deepen their understanding of the important role science plays in Florida agriculture.

It’s John Walt’s high school agriculture teacher-turned-Extension-specialist giving a congressman a three-minute education on peanuts and carrots, and then handing the microphone to a man who is still presenting agricultural science to visitors decades after John Walt first visited the farm as an elementary school student.

Rep. Dunn supports our proposal to invest in NFREC-SV in part because his Farm Bureau constituents support it. He can see how that investment will be used because John Walt gave us the opportunity to show him.

By connecting Hill to Field, John Walt drew upon existing relationships and created new ones.

I don’t miss D.C. I much prefer working directly with faculty and farmers in Florida. But when John Walt says it’s time to resume Field to the Hill, I’ll be ready.

Executive Secretary Position Open

SUMMARY:  Provides administrative and secretarial support to senior management.  Handles projects with minimal supervision that may typically be complex and/or confidential in nature.  Keeps official corporation records and executes administrative policies determined by or in conjunction with other officials by performing the following duties.

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITES:  Include the following.  Other duties may be assigned.

  • Working knowledge Microsoft Word, Outlook, Power Point, Excel, Internet Explorer and Adobe Acrobat DC.
  • Makes presentations to employees and non-employees.
  • Reads and routes incoming mail. Locates and attaches appropriate file to correspondence to be answered by employer.
  • Composes and types routine correspondence.
  • Compiles Electronic Format Board Book – Adobe Acrobat DC.
  • Prepares for State Board of Directors’ and Executive Committee Meetings.
  • Record Minutes of State Board Meetings and Executive Committee Meetings and maintains company minutes/files.
  • Files correspondence and other records.
  • Answers telephone and gives information to callers or routes call to appropriate official and places outgoing calls.
  • Schedules appointments and maintains calendar for the employer.
  • Arranges travel schedule and reservations.
  • Compiles and types statistical reports.
  • Makes copies of correspondence or other printed matter.
  • Orders supplies for the Executive Office and Board of Directors’ Meetings.
  • Prepares outgoing mail.

QUALIFICATION REQUIREMENTS:  To perform this job successfully, an individual must be able to perform each essential duty satisfactorily.  The requirements listed below are representative of the knowledge, skill, and/or ability required.  Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.

EDUCATION and/or EXPERIENCE:  High school diploma or general education degree (GED) with a minimum of 7 years related experience or equivalent combination of education and experience.

LANGUAGE SKILLS:  Ability to read and interpret documents such as safety rules, operating and maintenance instructions, and procedure manuals.  Ability to write routine reports and correspondence.  Ability to speak effectively before groups of customers or employees of the organization.

MATHEMATICAL SKILLS: Ability to apply basic mathematical concepts.  Ability to work with mathematical operations related to daily tasks.

REASONING ABILITY: Ability to solve practical problems and deal with a variety of concrete variables in situations where only limited standardization exists.  Ability to interpret a variety of instructions furnished in written, oral, diagram, or schedule form.

PHYSICAL DEMANDS:  The physical demands described here are representative of those that must be met by an employee in order to successfully perform the essential functions of this job.  Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions. While performing the duties of this job, the employee is regularly required to sit; while using their hands to finger, handle, or feel objects, tools, or controls; and talk or hear.  The employee is occasionally required to reach with hands and arms; stand; walk; and stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. The employee must frequently lift and/or move up to 10 pounds and occasionally lift and/or move up to 25 pounds.  Specific vision abilities required by this job include close vision and the ability to adjust focus.  The noise level in the work environment is usually quiet.

APPLY NOW

Director of Public Relations and Communications Position Open

SUMMARY:

Manages and administers Public Relations Division. Plans and supervises all public relations and communications activities directed to general public, media and Farm Bureau members. Provides regular public relations counsel and assistance for Farm Bureau volunteers and county Farm Bureau staff members.

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES: Include the following. Other duties may be assigned.

Administration of Public Relations Division

  • Responsible for staff who plan, create and manage Farm Bureau’s internal and external communications, including media contacts, news releases, employee newsletter, the Federation website and other Federation electronic platforms.
  • Prepares annual budget for approval of upper management. Plans and oversees the budget for the PR division. Reviews and approves PR division expenditures.
  • Sets goals and plans for development and implementation of public relations/communications programs
  • Conducts staff meetings and annual planning session
  • Reports division’s activities to president, executive staff and Florida Farm Bureau board of directors.

Public relations counsel and support for Farm Bureau volunteers and county Farm Bureau staff

  • Maintains a regular schedule of visits with volunteers, county Farm Bureau staff throughout the state.
  • Offers public relations and media relations workshops for small groups of Farm Bureau volunteers.
  • Assists county Farm Bureau presidents with public relations initiatives.
  • Recommends proposals for enhancing local county Farm Bureau public relations operations.

Public relations counsel for senior Florida Farm Bureau executives and other organizational support

  • Assists president in developing columns for the printed magazine
  • Assists in preparation of speeches and talking points for president
  • Develops annual address and talking points for annual meeting for president
  • Compiles information for and produces Federation’s annual report and Florida entries in the American Farm Bureau State Awards of Excellence program.
  • Responsible for special projects and programs as required

Executive Editor of the printed magazine

  • Assists in the development of an editorial calendar for the magazine in consultation with management, PR staff and the contracted vendor
  • Coordinates the internal Florida Farm Bureau review of each magazine issue
  • Assists in developing and gives final approval to budget for publication
  • Gives general direction on the appearance and content of publication
  • Maintains regular communication with the contracted vendor

External relations

  • Represents Florida Farm Bureau on outside boards and advisory groups
  • Serves as Florida Farm Bureau’s media relations spokesperson
  • Maintains positive relationships with personnel at UF/IFAS, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, USDA and non-government agricultural organizations.
  • Represents Farm Bureau at state and county events

Professional development

  • Encourages division staff to increase their industry skills and knowledge by attending seminars, lectures and classes and by obtaining certifications. Also encourages staff participation in professional associations.

QUALIFICATION REQUIREMENTS:

  • A bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university with a minimum of seven years experience in a managerial role.
  • Experience must include work in association public relations and communications.
  • A thorough working knowledge of print and electronic publishing is required.
  • An advanced writing ability is preferred.
  • Ability to work well with volunteers and other groups is essential.
  • Possess a positive, supportive attitude.

Travel Requirements:

Must be able to travel regularly within the state. Some out-of-state travel will be necessary.

Language Skills:

Must be able to read and interpret documents. Proficiency in writing letters, news articles and press releases must be demonstrated with completed work. Must be able to make presentations before both professional and non-professional audiences.

Mathematical Skills:

Must have a knowledge of basic mathematical concepts and be able to apply them in various tasks of calculation and computation.

Reasoning Ability:

Must be able to solve practical problems and operate with a number of variables in situations that are not determined by standard, repetitive arrangements. Must possess the ability to interpret a variety of instructions furnished in written, oral, diagram or schedule form.

Physical Demands:

The physical actions expressly stated or implied above are representative of the kinds of demands that must be met by the employee to perform in this position successfully. Reasonable accommodations may be made so that individuals with disabilities may be enabled to carry out the essential functions.

While performing the duties of this job, the employee is regularly required to sit, use hands to finger, handle or feel objects, tools and controls and see, talk and hear. The employee is occasionally required to reach with hands or arms. The employee is occasionally required to stand, walk, stoop, kneel, crouch and/or crawl. The employee must use a computer keyboard and view a screen.

The employee must frequently lift or move up to 10 pounds. Specific vision requirements required by this job include close-up vision and the ability to adjust focus.

APPLY NOW

Assistant Director of Government and Community Affairs Position Open

SUMMARY:  Responsible for advocating, representing and communicating the Florida Farm Bureau Federation policy before state and federal agencies, and local governments in central and south Florida.  Facilitate other natural resource, environmental and land use issues as assigned.  Provide written and oral reports on meetings and activities to Farm Bureau’s state board, its members and other staff as appropriate.  Strong written and verbal communication is essential and frequent travel is required.

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITES:  Include the following.  Other duties may be assigned.

  • Serve as liaison between water management district and the Farm Bureau membership.
  • Follow issues relating to water management and regulation that impacts the agricultural community (preparing monthly newsletter updates, newspaper articles and special memos, etc.)  This requires learning the issues, talking with producers and agricultural representatives to determine how the industry would be impacted, and relaying this information to the membership. Establish a network of information resources within the farming community, local county governments and municipalities, as well as government agencies (DEP, FDACS, FFWCC, USFW, DOI, EPA, and Corps of Engineers) to assist in keeping abreast of issues.
  • Requires public speaking at meetings on Farm Bureau policies.  Establishing relationships with governing board members and staff in order to facilitate solutions and/or compromises on agency rules and policies.
  • Prepare presentations for Florida Farm Bureau, county Farm Bureau boards and associated groups for educational purposes, i.e. regulatory updates, issue updates, etc.
  • Grassroots involvement; establishing a farm network that can be called upon to participate in committees, in public workshops and board meetings, host farm tours, make phone calls, write letters or any necessary input.

QUALIFICATION REQUIREMENTS:  To perform this job successfully, an individual must be able to perform each essential duty satisfactorily.  The requirements listed below are representative of the knowledge, skill, and/or ability required.  Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.

EDUCATION and/or EXPERIENCE:  Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in agriculture, environmental sciences, political science, communications or related field and a minimum of two years experience in the public or private sector; or equivalent combination of education, training and experience.  Knowledge of agricultural production and practices in south and central Florida is desirable.

LANGUAGE SKILLS:  Ability to read and interpret technical documents such as water supply planning, basin management action plans, and county government ordinances.  Ability to write routine reports and correspondence. Ability to speak effectively before groups of customers, employees of the organization, and stakeholders outside of the agricultural community.

MATHEMATICAL SKILLS: Ability to apply moderately complex mathematical concepts.  Ability to work with mathematical operations related to daily tasks.

REASONING ABILITY:  Ability to solve practical problems and deal with a variety of concrete variables in situations where only limited standardization exists.  Ability to interpret a variety of instructions furnished in written, oral, diagram, or schedule form.

CERTIFICATES, LICENSES and REGISTRATIONS:  N/A

OTHER SKILLS and ABILITIES:  Requires self-starter and highly motivated individual.

Employee must have a basic knowledge of computers including Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, Teams and Internet usage including Zoom.

PHYSICAL DEMANDS:  The physical demands described here are representative of those that must be met by an employee in order to successfully perform the essential functions of this job.  Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.

Requires day and occasional night travel.  While performing the duties of this job, the employee is regularly required to sit.  The employee frequently is required to talk or hear.

WORK ENVIRONMENT:  The work environment characteristics described here are representative of those an employee encounters while performing the essential functions of this job.  Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.

While performing the duties of this job, the employee occasionally works in outside weather conditions while participating in farm or other environmental tours.

The noise level in the work environment is usually low to moderate.

APPLY NOW

Land Grant Partner

June 2021 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Every spring, a swarm of children, some not even 10 years old, cart away tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of Don Bennink’s cows with no more collateral than a pledge to bring them back within 48 hours.

This annual rite of spring for 4-Hers and FFAers has been happening at North Florida Holsteins for so long that Bennink can’t get more precise than “about three decades.” 4-H mom Jo Sullivan says simply, that in Gilchrist County, “It’s a thing.”

For Bennink, this is part of providing for the future of agriculture. It’s about giving kids opportunity. It’s also about keeping promises. It’s about taking responsibility for what’s been put in your care.

It was a thing nearly 20 years ago, too, when Lauren Ellison was coming of age. Although she was in 4-H “straight out of the womb,” she said, hosting a heifer at home was not an option.

Ellison enrolled in Bennink’s program, called the free-lease agreement because of its price tag. Bennink’s staff mentored her and her peers as they walked, washed, clipped, fed, learned the body parts and refined their showmanship skills.

At her first show with a Bennink heifer, Ellison got pushed around the ring by an animal 10 times her weight. Part of the experience, Bennink says, is the opportunity to fail and then to come back.

Ellison came back every year through high school. She got so good at handling heifers that Bennink offered her a job teaching the 4-Hers and FFAers. Today she’s in a dairy career at Suwannee Valley Feeds in Trenton.

The free lease program is Bennink’s service to the industry, just like his participation on the Florida Farm Bureau Dairy Advisory Committee is. It’s part of what has made him an agriculture legend, a Florida Ag Hall of Famer, a lawyer-turned-dairyman who opens his farm to youth, to veterinary school interns and to graduate students from around the world.

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Gilchrist County 4-H agent Jessica Altum Cooper enlists 4-Hers in the free lease program. She teaches showmanship, like how to dress and how to keep to the dairy’s feeding schedule when a cow is in your care.

Altum Cooper connected Jo Sullivan’s daughter Cayce to North Florida Holsteins. Cayce earned the trust of a Bennink cow through weeks of halter training and grooming to earn the privilege of taking the cow to the Suwannee River Youth Livestock Show and Fair at age 9.

She was thrilled to compete and couldn’t wait to do it again. For the next three years, though, injuries–none of which occurred at Bennink’s dairy nor at 4-H—kept Cayce from participating in the free lease program. They did not keep her from winning ribbons at the fair.

Altum Cooper identified other opportunities for Cayce to compete. Cayce won a blue ribbon for her iridescent photo of a mushroom. She won another for her buttermilk biscuits.

This year, Cayce returned to the ring, health and competitive spirit intact. Her Bennink cow won first in class, and Cayce placed third in showmanship.

Cayce is only 13. If she had to choose a career now, it would be as a veterinarian. But she says she doesn’t want to choose—she wants to do everything. One choice is clear, though. She’ll choose 4-H and Bennink’s generosity for years to come.

J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).