Scarlett Jackson Moves On to National Competition for Excellence Award
by TIM CRAIG
For Scarlett Jackson, the journey to winning the 2021 Florida Farm Bureau Excellence in Agriculture Award may have started in college, in a general education speech course all students must take.
Her speech that day was on the things she grew up doing: farming, livestock, agriculture. The reaction was eye-opening.
“I grew up in a rural community that understood that kind of work, that kind of lifestyle,” she says. “So when I gave that speech, it was an eye-opening experience. Not everyone knew where their food came from.”
She decided then that maybe it was her job to let her fellow students and professors know what they were missing. She started taking some of her fellow students and professors to tour Crooked Lake Ranch as a way of showing them the day-to-day magic that happens on a working ranch.
That sense of advocacy for agriculture has pretty much been a part of her character all of her life. Jackson grew up in a farming family. Her grandfather is Florida FFA Hall of Fame inductee Ronald Weatherington from Plant City. Her parents, David and Shayla McCullers, manage Crooked Lake Ranch in Frostproof. Her brother, Dakota, also manages a ranch. She and her sister, Moriah, each have their own cattle they manage.
“We thought our parents just wanted the free labor,” says Jackson with a laugh, “but when you grow up with that lifestyle, where you’re all in for the food and fiber that feeds America, it becomes a part of you as well. I saw my parents’ work ethic and they instilled that in all of us.”
When her alma mater, Warner University, announced it was starting its Agriculture Program, Jackson, a 2011 alumnus, came on board to help make that happen. She says she enjoyed recruiting, fundraising and advocating for the program.
“It was easy to sell a program that is production-based and production-minded, where students could continue to grow with what they were already doing in their 4-H clubs and high school programs,” she says. “Fundraising for the program and helping to build the amazing complex is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.”
It also opened doors and opportunities along the way for Jackson. As she went around the state talking about the program, she got to meet a lot of different, like-minded people. It also pushed her to pursue the Excellence in Agriculture Award.
“Usually, I was the one who was helping others, offering feedback while they pursued the award,” she says. “But about five years ago or so, I started aiming toward trying to win it.”
After helping get the Warner University Agriculture Program off the ground, Jackson left to become executive director for the Florida FFA Foundation. She also became more active in the county and state Farm Bureau.
She participated in the state’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership group, a two-year program designed to prepare the next generation of farmers and ranchers to represent agriculture at the local, state and national level, focusing on personal growth, public speaking, media training, legislative awareness, issue advocacy and service leadership.
The program was intense but worth it. In fact, says Jackson, the current Young Farmers and Leadership group had finalists in all three of the Farm Bureau award categories — Achievement in Agriculture, Excellence in Agriculture, and the Discussion Meet.
“It was neat getting to know people from across the state who have pursued excellence in the agriculture industry,” she says.
This is her second year applying for the Excellence Award. Last year, she was a finalist.
“This year, it just happened to be me,” she says.
In January 2020, Jackson came back to Warner University, and in March 2021, she was named the Director of Admissions.
Winning the state award places her in the national competition, which begins in January.
She is currently tweaking her application and getting feedback and encouragement from people like Polk County Farm Bureau President Leigh Ann Wynn and Michele Curts, the coordinator for the Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Group
“It’s been great being around like-minded people, and it’s helped me through this process,” she says. “This award is really an opportunity for me to continue my advocacy and share my passion for promoting the agriculture industry through education.”