by TERESA SCHIFFER
Central Florida Ag News would like to welcome the new coordinator for the Highlands County Farm Bureau, Jessica Harris! Harris is excited to step into her new role so she can share her passion for agriculture with the world while striving to improve the lives of Florida farmers.
Born and raised in Lake Placid, Harris hails from a long line of agriculturists who have operated groves and farms in Lake Placid for decades.
“My grandparents were dairy farmers and citrus growers, all of my uncles and parents were citrus growers and agricultural well-drillers, and we have a family ranch in Texas – cattle ranchers,” she says. “So we have a little bit of everything going on here!”
The significance of agriculture in Harris’ life cannot be overstated.
“I was in agriculture my whole life,” she explains. “Everything I’ve learned came from an agricultural perspective. Like learning how to drive a tractor – it taught me how to go slow and steady because it’s not always the fastest who wins the race. Everything I have, I can thank agriculture for. My morals, my manners, my education – everything.”
Harris attended the University of Florida for a degree in Business Administration and graduated in 2019. Her education, in addition to her life experiences growing up, has prepared her well for handling the financial and business aspects of her position as coordinator. After selling agricultural real estate to and from farmers and ranchers for the past year, Harris is ready to hit the ground running with the Farm Bureau while continuing her career in real estate.
“I’m aiming to educate our community politically, I plan to educate our youth on the importance of agriculture, and to serve our land with a helpful and hopeful hand,” she says. “I’m going to be present in the classroom, on our farms and ranches, and our political events, and I’m going to make a positive change in Florida agriculture.”
To help instill in our youth a respect for agriculture, Harris is looking forward to preparing presentations geared toward middle and high school students to highlight the career opportunities available in the agriculture sector. She also hopes to elicit donations of books on agriculture to further this goal.
Harris has seen how farmers and ranchers struggle to stay afloat while providing necessities to society, especially in recent years. She brings a message of hope to the community and an energized spirit of cooperation.
“If we work together, we can come through it,” is her mantra.
To Harris, as to many in the agricultural community, it is of vital importance that people come to value their local farmers and ranchers. It is her mission to elevate awareness of what is happening all around us, that much of the general public is scarcely aware of. She wants people to understand the impact of diseases and environmental factors on crops and land, as well as the detrimental effects of relying too heavily on goods imported from other countries. Agriculture is the basis of a healthy, functioning society, as it touches the lives of all Americans in many ways every single day.
“Agriculture isn’t only limited to what we eat,” she expounds. “You’d be surprised how many people go into their local grocery store’s produce section and have no idea what happens with that orange before it’s sitting on the shelf. In addition to this, agriculture makes a difference in our whole economy, including processing and distribution for example. It generates other jobs, provides your skin care products, and contributes to the landscape and beauty of Florida. Not only that, but it also affects our everyday health. If you ate today or used that citrus-scented skincare routine, if you took your vitamin C, then you are a part of agriculture.”