October FloridAgriculture eNewsletter
By J. Scott Angle
Baker County Farm Bureau President Robert Norman recently talked to me about farming’s risk-reward ratio. In short, that’s high risk, not so high reward.
I share his concern. Some reports indicate that a farmer gets only 8 cents of each dollar spent in the grocery store. There are a whole lot of middlemen in there. They all add value, but the low margin makes farming a challenge in Baker County and everywhere else.
Robert helped ground me in the reality of what it’s like to farm on the fringe of Florida’s largest city. Development claims more farmland every year. Newcomers from the city seeking the “country life” complain when they discover the scent that sometimes comes with that life. Small plots make farming a side gig for most, including Robert, whose day job is as a maintenance specialist for a department store distribution center. He’s got a hog farmer on his board who’s a CPA.
Farmers are good at growing stuff, Robert told me. Most of them aren’t as good at sales and marketing.
Robert has been working with UF/IFAS on the producer-consumer connection for a couple of years now. He and UF/IFAS Baker County Extension Director Alicia Lamborn have organized food giveaways and cooperated on youth development programs through 4-H and FFA. The Farm Bureau donated to our 4-H agent’s teaching pavilion and Alicia hosted a booth at the Farm Bureau’s community outreach day.
So when COVID-19 turned the world upside down, Robert and Alicia were ready. The Farm Bureau identified needy families, and UF/IFAS helped locate farmers who had suddenly lost school and restaurant customers in the pandemic shutdown. The Farm Bureau packed food boxes, and UF/IFAS included information in each box to educate recipients on safe food handling and community services available through Extension.
It got food to 400 needy families in Baker County, and it provided an outlet for farmers. Just as important, more Baker County families now know that there’s a local food option that keeps money in the community so farms can survive, and Baker County doesn’t become just another part of Greater Jacksonville.
It’s going to take a lot more county-by-county efforts like those of Robert and Alicia to make our food system more resilient to shocks like pandemics.
I’m on a quest to visit all 67 Extension offices. There are thousands of UF/IFAS employees to meet. It’s one way for me to meet the people we serve, too. I always ask the county Extension director to invite the local Farm Bureau president over when I know I’ll be coming by for a visit.
Visiting with Robert deepened my appreciation not for your plight (Robert didn’t complain, he explained) but for your determination. I’m proud to lead an organization dedicated to helping farmers and making communities stronger.
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).