Grassroots Efforts

Grassroots Efforts

Florida Young Farmers and Ranchers compiling online directory of farms selling directly to consumers.

by PAUL CATALA

At 34, Ryan Armstrong already has seven years literally in the field growing citrus. He knows firsthand the effort, dedication and devotion it takes to get Florida-grown produce and from soil to table. 

Armstrong is the current class president of the 17-member Florida Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Group. He has been with the Florida Farm Bureau for about 2½ years and has helped spearhead a project compiling a list of Florida farms that sell directly to consumers. Through the list, Armstrong hopes to help foster a groundswell of support for buying local.

The Young Farmers and Ranchers is for men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 who want to network, exchange ideas, take part in community-related projects, and develop leadership skills. 

Based in Gainesville, the Florida Farm Bureau is the state’s largest agricultural organization with more than 142,000 members. With members having a close connection with growers, the organization works to promote buying local – particularly during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Armstrong,  who has worked in citrus and spent six years working in juice processing with Tropicana, said the compilation is being called the “Florida Farm List.” 

Armstrong says to compile the resource, he has been working with Kalan Royal of Wauchula, who had organized an initial list of Florida farms after the coronavirus pandemic began. That list contained Florida farms that had agri-tours, u-pick operations, produce stands or front-end stores. 

Royal has been working with Bud Chiles, founder of Demand American Grown – a buy-American advocacy group of farmers and consumers – to persuade more investment in buying stateside.

“He didn’t ask me to do anything with (the list),” says Armstrong, who lives in Lake Placid. “But being the president of the Young Farmers and Ranchers, I shared that with our leadership group…and asked them to share it also within their districts.”

Over the past three to four months, Armstrong, Royal, and other group members have collectively compiled a list of Florida farms and farm stands providing direct sales of fresh fruits, vegetables and protein boxes.

The group plans to keep the list updated and include fresh produce and meat that can be purchased from farms directly or online, according to information from the Florida Farm Bureau. To find out availability and hours of participating retail operations, consumers are asked to check each farm’s Facebook page. 

Royal, 27, a cattle rancher and chemical salesman for crop protection and nutrition, says some of the names and addresses of Florida farms were obtained through Eva Webb, a field representative for the Florida Farm Bureau’s District 8. Once Royal’s list was posted, other farms asked to be added and it grew. 

There are about 250 farms currently listed. Due to the coronavirus, some of those farmers with contracts to stores, restaurants and schools suddenly didn’t have a place to sell their produce. The Florida Farm List directs consumers to buy produce and meat from them. 

“Someone can click a link now and find out farm operation hours and prices and produce,” says Royal. “It’s to help the farmers; my passion is to help farmers. They’ve been dealing with a lot of unfair competition and (the pandemic) is another obstacle they’re dealing with. Anything I can do to help them move their produce and help these farmers and ranchers remain profitable, I’m willing to do.”

Helping guide the Florida Farm List development is Michelle Curts, leadership programs coordinator for the Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Group in Gainesville. Armstrong says she saw the Young Farmers was using a group e-messaging format to share the list. She took it to the Florida Farm Bureau public relations department and the list was put on social media. 

“That’s how it got on social media, that’s how it got on the farm bureau website and that’s kind of how it took off, really,” Armstrong says. “People in Highlands County shared it and it kept growing from there.”

Curts says the current status and updates of the Florida Farms List is ongoing through Armstrong’s determination. She adds the list is especially critical to have an update as long as the coronavirus pandemic exists.

“It’s obvious farmers and ranchers are facing challenging situations. They came up with this (list) idea as a way to help,” says Curts. “The driving force is connecting people to farmers and ranchers. This allows consumers to have access to fresh produce while supporting these farmers and ranchers.”

In a written statement, Florida Farm Bureau President John Hoblick says he has been impressed with the Young Farmers’ efforts

As for the continuation of the Florida Farm List and its growth potential, Armstrong says the group plans to keep a running update on working farms, produce stands, and u-pick operations with times of when they’ll be back open for produce sales

“My main hope is that this isn’t just a one-time deal because of the pandemic,” says Armstrong, a seventh-generation Floridian and farmer. “The Farm Bureau deserves a huge amount of credit for (the list). Their support is critical in this whole process. It’s the right thing to do for the farmers and ranchers in this state.”

Visit floridafarmbureau.org/news/young-farmers-provide-direct-sale-list-for-consumers/ to find out what Florida farms are selling directly to consumers.