RECENTLY, POLK COUNTY native farmer and exemplary part of the citrus industry, Victor B. “Vic” Story, Jr., was named the 2015 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Florida Farmer of the Year. The award has been granted for the last 25 years to the top innovators and businessmen in the agricultural industry; it honors farmers who are exemplary leaders and create an impact that goes beyond the groves, into their communities.
Story was born on September 19, 1945, in a military hospital in Palm Springs, California. Both of his parents were in the Army; his mother was a nurse from Michigan, and his father was a pilot from Florida. When Story was just six weeks old, the family moved back to Florida and bought some land just north of Frostproof, where they began planting citrus groves. Story attended schools in Frostproof until ninth grade, and then he went to Lake Wales High School. After graduating, he attended the University of Florida and then came back to Polk County, where he joined his father and started working for the family grove business. The Storys started out with about 120 acres, and now they have more than 2,000. Story explains that they will “always keep growing and adding on” to their acreage. Most of the groves the Storys own are in Polk County, but they also have groves in Hardee, Collier, Okeechobee counties. The Storys employ leaf and soil testing in the groves to ensure that no more chemicals are used than are necessary. They also reclaim all their oil on site. Their business practices carry a heavy note of environmental stewardship; Story knows the importance of being a generational thinker and aims to make certain that future generations have something to enjoy too.
He has served as a member on several community boards, such as YMCA, Lake Wales Little League, and Our Children’s Academy. He has also held a seat as city commissioner in Lake Wales for three years and was Mayor of Lake Wales in 1976. He and his wife of 44 years, Ann, have three boys and two girls, which at present have given them the joy of twelve grandchildren. While raising their kids, Story took his sons with him to the family business “all the time, and when they were old enough to work, they worked just like I did growing up. In fact, all three of my sons could do anything a man could by their early teens.” Two of his sons are in business with him today.
For his whole professional life, Story has seen challenges arise in the citrus industry. “For instance, when I was younger, nematodes were the challenge to battle. In fact, they’re still a challenge. All these things are still challenges,” he explains, when asked about the diseases we face in the citrus industry today, such as greening and canker. He goes on to say, “We’re managing it. Just like everything else in the world, it’s a little more complicated than the last; harder to solve, harder to deal with.” But, he believes “between new rootstock, new varieties, cultural practices, and other discoveries that have yet to be made, I think we’ll learn how to manage the disease. Things look bleak; production is almost the lowest in my lifetime. But there are those that are overwhelmed by the challenge of it and those that are trying to meet the challenge and move forward.” Above all, he says, “Farmers must have hope. They must be confident that they can meet those challenges that will come their way.”
Now that Story has won the title of Florida Farmer of the Year, he will go on to compete against nine other state farmers to vie for the title of 2015 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year in October. In recognition for the award, he wants to thank his wife for being there through the tough times always and raising their family. Story explains his way of becoming a leader in the citrus industry like this: “I am always learning from people; good ideas can come from others. When I see someone do something that makes them successful, I look up to them.”
story by JULIE GMITTER