Tens of millions of people all over the world know our great state of Florida by its very-fitting nickname, “The Sunshine State,” officially adopted by the Legislature in 1970. By comparison, it’s probably accurate to say that only a few people know Florida by its agricultural identifier. That would be “specialty crop state.”
How does a state get to be called a “specialty crop state”? It has to produce a wide range of commodities. Florida certainly fills the bill, producing about 300 commodities, literally ranging from A to Z — avocados to zucchini (summer squash).
What’s a key factor in Florida agricultural success — it’s ability to produce so many good-for-you fruits and vegetables? It’s the state’s mixture of subtropical and tropical climates, which, among other things, enables the year-round production of freeze-sensitive plants, such as tomatoes.
Our friends at Florida Tomatoes, the Florida Tomato Committee (floridatomatoes.org), tell us that the state’s tomato industry is believed to have started in the 1870s. Today, Florida is the nation’s largest producer of fresh tomatoes. With almost every southern county in the state cultivating tomatoes (on approximately 29,000 acres), Florida produces virtually all the fresh-market, field-grown tomatoes in the United States from October through June each year. The state also accounts for about 50 percent of all fresh tomatoes produced domestically. In 2017, Florida growers produced more than $262 million worth of tomatoes.
Have you been on the Florida Department of Agriculture website recently? It’s a truly resource-and information-rich site (freshfromflorida.com). One of the resources you’ll find there, on the Crops in Season page, is a chart of seasonal Florida fruits and vegetables. You’ll also find links to colorful graphics showing what’s in season by month. Knowing when Florida-grown items are in season — when they’re typically harvested and available in stores and at farmers markets — is the key to knowing what to look for when you’re grocery shopping.
Being that this is June, the Crops in Season graphic I’ve seen online shows 16 Florida-grown products (some of them quite exotic) now available — avocados, cantaloupe, carambola (star fruit), eggplant, guava, lychee, mango, mushrooms, oranges, papaya, passion fruit, peanuts, potatoes, sweet corn, tomatoes, and watermelon.
Not only is the graphic a handy guide for shopping, it’s a great motivator to support the thousands of Florida farmers and growers who work hard almost every day of every year to bring us so many great-tasting and healthful Fresh From Florida products.
BIO: Baxter Troutman is founder and chief executive officer of Labor Solutions, a staffing company with offices in Bartow, Winter Haven, Plant City, Lake Wales, and Arcadia. You also can visit his Dark Hammock Legacy Ranch online at www.DH-LR.com. A cattle rancher and citrus grower who served in the Florida House of Representatives, Troutman understands the challenges and concerns of today’s farmer.