by ANNABEL ROCHA
Danielle Daum holds many titles, but at the core of her identity, she is two things: a farmer and a leader.
“I love the people. I love what it represents. I love that it is vital to everyone’s daily life,” she says. “It’s in my blood, you could say.”
Daum is a third-generation farmer who runs Happiness Farms in Lake Placid with her family. The caladium and citrus operation was founded more than 50 years ago by her grandfather, Paul Phypers Sr., and now encompasses more than 200 acres. She says that since Highlands County and Lake Placid are the caladium capital of the world, these plants have always been a part of her daily life.
“We farmed caladiums from the time I was born,” she explains. “My mom was working in the business till the day she had me … didn’t even realize she was having labor pains. I grew up in it, helping at the farm as much as you do as a child, pulling weeds in the caladium fields, packing bulbs on the weekend and after school,” she said.
Her current focus is to ensure a viable business and that Happiness can sustain operations with challenges like the cost of fertilizer doubling and citrus greening disrupting the groves.
“Right now with citrus greening, this is something that just might break the industry,” she says. “We’ve been dealing with it long enough that it’s done severe damage to growth, and researchers haven’t come up with a solution to help us stay alive. We do a lot of praying,” she says.
Issues like this are why Daum spends much of her free time working on committees such as Congressman Greg Steube’s Ag Advisory Committee and the FSA County Operating Committee, among others. She hasn’t lost hope in the future of the industry and believes that education is key in helping others realize the importance of agriculture. Her work with Highlands County Ag-Venture, a program that teaches third-graders different aspects of farming, is especially important to her.
“Our hope is that we’re gonna catch them young, we’re gonna educate them, make them aware so that they pay attention for the rest of their lives and so that they become wise voters, good parents, and good business people who truly understand the value of agriculture,” she says.
Teaching comes naturally to Daum, who holds a degree in education. She doesn’t work in a school, but the farm is her classroom. She hosts farm tours and loves showing customers from all around the country how to care for their crops. She recalled the enthusiasm brought by a garden club that recently toured from the West Coast, saying, “We spent two hours talking about caladiums, and I think we could have talked for another hour. I enjoy talking about it as much as people enjoy learning about it.”
Daum works hard to share information with other farmers, as well. She is the Highlands County Farm Bureau Secretary and sits on the Florida Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors.
“What I love most about my volunteer service in these organizations and committees is sharing my passion for the ag industry with like-minded people and having the opportunity to make a difference for my fellow farmers. Farmers are thoughtful, kind-hearted, down-to-earth, and giving people who want the best for our environment, land, friends, and neighbors,” she said.
There are a lot of unknown factors that go into her work. Daum says that some years the caladium fields are plentiful and other years Mother Nature is not as kind, even though the same amount of care and nurturing went into preparing the crop.
“My daddy always says I don’t have to go to Vegas to gamble, I do it every day in agriculture,” she said.
Her operational work at Happiness, along with her many other duties, keeps her on her toes. She says that she was once the “T-ball mom” and “softball mom” to her children Laine and Lydia, but they’re now both adults, giving her more time to attend agriculture meetings and events.
“Honestly, agriculture is my hobby, and the things that I do for Farm Bureau, for Ag in the Classroom, and with my Ag-Venture program… those are the things that make me happy.”