An Eye Toward the Future

An Eye Toward the Future

Woman of the Year in Ag Angela TenBroeck Focusing on Sustainability

by PAUL CATALA

 

Angela TenBroeck’s agricultural roots stem back to the 18th century when her ancestors began working as sharecroppers in Georgia. Farm life has sustained her family for generations since, and now TenBroeck’s varied accomplishments and contributions to agriculture have earned her the designation of Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ 2021 Woman of the Year in Agriculture.

Past recipients have worked in all aspects of the ag industry, including cattle, produce, timber, citrus, equine, horticulture, sugarcane, dairy, and education.

TenBroeck, a fourth-generation farmer, says her family had “always farmed to survive,” so focusing on agricultural sustainability has been her main focus. The Jacksonville native partly credits her great-grandfather, farmer Clifford Miller, for her interest in fostering innovation in farming.

At her Palatka farm, Worldwide Aquaponics, TenBroeck, 47, specializes in agricultural growth, space-saving and sustainable food production. The family began working in hydroponics, growing plants without soil, before moving into aquaponics, raising and growing fish and plants together within the same environment, considered to be a “sustainable” process.

The farm’s noted work within aquaponics has been an ongoing growth and maturation process for TenBroeck.

“My great-grandfather Miller wanted to farm differently when he moved his farm from Lakeland to Jacksonville’s west side. He saw resources getting scarce and thought this was a better way of farming,” she says. “Today, we use his practices of farming in our greenhouses and then utilizing the waste of our farms on our fields to grow vegetables. He always did that.” 

TenBroeck’s family has worked in hydroponics since the 1970s. Besides Worldwide Aquaponics, TenBroeck ran the aquaponics farm Trader Hills Farm in Hilliard from 2012 to its closing in 2017 and Jacksonville’s Foodery Farms, which found farming use in brownfield sites for communities with food insecurities. It operated from 2018 until last November.

In awarding her the honor, FDACS also cited TenBroeck’s extensive nonprofit outreach. In 2013, she founded the Center for Sustainable Agricultural Excellence and Conservation. The center aims to change the lives of local farmers by offering a model for modern and sustainable agriculture. In 2017, she began running Aqua Hortus Farms, a company that develops and operates controlled-environment facilities, growing produce year-round.

TenBroeck’s success has come through her abilities to think outside the box, and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says that skill has helped her contribute to agriculture advancement in the state.

“Angela has made a tremendous contribution to our state with her commitment to sustainability, decreasing food insecurity and improving communities across Florida,” Fried says. “She is a true inspiration to women in the agricultural industry.” 

In March 2020, she began focusing her nonprofit entity on buying from small- and medium-size farms and making sure “bags are complete for our families.” That effort —  supported by the Florida Blue Foundation, Humana, Walmart Foundation, Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund, and North Florida Community Fund — serves families in Putnam, St. Johns, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, and Clay counties.

TenBroeck explains that she wants to expand her current farm, which now sits on 30 acres, with 26,000 square feet of covered greenhouse and a 5,000-square-foot fish house with 31 fish tanks on five acres.

“We hope to expand on our farm and regionally throughout the southeast,” she says. 
“We believe the future of agriculture is going to be decentralized farming. We’re not going to be able to monocrop going forward. In order for sustainability to work, we’re going to have to change the way we farm,” she adds. “My great-granddaddy’s way of farming won’t work; it’s depleted our resources so we have to figure out new ways. The future requires us to lock arms and get invested in it so we can farm into the future and have food security for our fellow Americans.”