Service to the Community On and Off the Groves
Their workplaces are the groves of Central Florida, caring for the land that supplies the local and national communities with fresh fruit. But service to the community doesn’t stop at the groves, instead spreading to volunteering for farming organizations, county boards, and local charter schools.
Some citrus growers have invested in improving citrus growth, such as Ellis Hunt Jr. of Hunt Brothers in Lakes Wales; some in church affiliations, like local citrus grower John Langford of Lakeland; and some in growing their local YMCA, like Kyle Story of Story Companies in Lake Wales. Like many agriculture stewards, these three men see that giving back to the community helps not only the recipients, but also the givers themselves.
“There are a lot of good causes out there that need help, and you learn so much from volunteering that you can take back and inspire others with,” says Kyle Story, Vice President of Story Companies. Story, a fourth-generation citrus grower, is Vice President of the Polk County Farm Bureau, an active volunteer in the charter school system in Lake Wales, and a board member for the YMCA of Lake Wales. He is also involved with the countywide planning commission.
Fellow generational grower Ellis Hunt Jr. saw the giving example from his family evident around Polk County, as the YMCA of Lake Wales, Water’s Edge assisted living center, and a building of the Lake Wales Hospital were built by donations from his family. Hunt himself is active with the local Farm Bureau and Citrus Commission, and he has provided donations toward the University of Florida’s experiment station in Lake Alfred for improved citrus production. “I feel very blessed to have the time and resources for these volunteer positions. You get back more than you give with strong relationships and new information you learn,” he states.
Citrus grower John Langford joined two Farm Credit bank boards after the company helped him during the 1989 freeze that damaged his citrus groves. He also is an active member of his church, First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, and is encouraged by seeing its involvement in the community. “The church is very motivated, and over 50 percent of what it receives they get back out the door to community and mission support,” Langford says.
All three growers recall that seeing family members demonstrate the importance of giving led them to be the influential donors they are today. Story, who encourages employees to help out with local projects in the community, explains: “I learned volunteering from my father and I hope to make that impression on the next generation. You have to be the example and show why it’s important to you.”
story by BLAIR TOWNLEY