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Farm City Week was created over 60 years ago when Merle H. Tucker, the then-chairman of the Kiwanis International Agriculture and Conservation Committee was seated next to businessman Charles Dana Bennett when the two ended up taking a train from Chicago to Washington D.C.
The two men ended up discussing the state of farming income during the 1950s, which was in decline. In addition, society was losing touch with the reality of where their foods came from.
Tucker and Bennett felt as though the current population had very few ties to agriculture and the farmers who were the backbones of grocery stores, restaurants, and marketplaces.
The two men used their platforms to find a way to raise awareness of farming, agriculture, and ranching, and the National Farm City Week was born.
Historically, Kiwanis coordinated Farm-City Week until 1988, when the American Farm Bureau Federation took over the responsibility of promoting the event and its farmers.
To this day, Farm City Week remains an important aspect of the year.
The 2018 National Farm City Week was proclaimed as November 14-21, and in Jefferson County, the week was kicked off with a gathering during the Wednesday, November 14 Kiwanis Club meeting, held at the Jefferson Country Club.
The meeting was attended by Kiwanians, as well as members of the Jefferson County IFAS Extension Office, Northwest Florida Farm Credit and The Jefferson County Farm Bureau.
Over a lunch of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, a mixed salad and dinner roll, those who were gathered were first welcomed by Jefferson County Farm Bureau’s Agency Manager Lance Braswell, who also introduced the main speaker, Cacee Hilliard.
A former agriculture teacher and the current Florida Farm Bureau CARES Coordinator Hilliard visited Jefferson County from the Farm Bureau Gainesville office.
“The whole point of Farm City Week is to recognize the many special partnerships between rural and urban communities that make our food supply safe and plentiful,” began Hilliard.
According to Hilliard, Florida agriculture employs over 2 million individuals in addition to the farmers and ranchers, such as shippers and processors, marketers, inspectors and retailers.
All these individuals contributed to $1.27 billion of Florida’s economy.
Despite that, only one percent of Florida’s population is involved in producing the food, fiber, and fuel that the other 99 percent uses.
“Who is willing to step up and answer that call to action? Fortunately, in Jefferson County, we have several farmers and ranchers who answer that call every single day,” said Hilliard. “Farm City Week activities celebrate a mutually beneficial relationship that supports the quality of life that we enjoy.”
Throughout Florida, Farm City Week is marked by luncheons, dinners, farm tours, banquets and more as schools, civic groups, and communities get in touch with the farmers who supply local foods.
“As the voice of agriculture, Farm Bureau at the local, state, and national level works tirelessly every single day to connect consumers to their food – who grows it, how it is grown, and how our environment is impacted as a result,” Hilliard, adding that she believed these three questions were important for consumers and urban communities to hear and understand when it came to Florida’s farmers.
Further, Hilliard mentioned how blessed the Sunshine State was that most communities were fed by local foods and that the farm goods produced in the state did not have to travel far to reach the plates of Florida residents.
In addition, Hilliard said that Florida’s farmers seek to do more than just produce food for hungry consumers.
“I’ve seen firsthand how dedicated our farmers are to the land and our natural resources,” said Hilliard.
Nearly one-third of Florida’s landmass and green space is occupied by Florida farms and ranches, and the men, women, and families who work these lands also work tirelessly to keep Florida in as pristine a shape as possible.
Whether she’s touring cotton farms or sugar cane plantations, Hilliard was moved by the deep care that the farmers all shared regarding the environment and how their farms impacted that environment.
Some of the ways that farmers and ranchers are remaining mindful of their impact on the environment were the ways that farmers carefully monitor water and nutrient usage.
“Water quality is one of our state’s best resources - by implementing water quality BMP’s (best management practices), our farmers and ranchers are sending water back into the aquifer cleaner than when it first entered their farm,” said Hilliard.
Whether it is generational farmers who are working the lands first worked by their parents, grandparents or ancestors, or the first generation farmers who are newly arriving on lands that they hope to pass down to their children, Hilliard sees farmers and ranchers around the state implementing practices that are intended to protect and better the environment.
Hilliard recognized the groups and organizations that work alongside farmers and ranchers to make this possible, such as local UF/IFAS extension offices and the Florida Department of Agriculture.
This, Hilliard said, is where the Florida Farm Bureau also comes in.
In 2001, Farm Bureau created the This Farm CARES program, which gives special recognition to environmentally aware farmers and ranchers who actively use suggested best management practices in their daily applications.
CARES is an acronym for County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship.
“Florida Farm Bureau is honored to share the stories of environmental stewardship,” said Hilliard.
These farmers aren’t just interested in bettering the environment, but the communities too.
Many CARES farmers serve within their local communities as educators, volunteer firefighters, coaches and more even while handling the daily routine of farm and ranch work.
“After putting in 80 hours in one week, they and their families still make time to serve within their local community,” said Hilliard.
In Jefferson County alone, 14 farmers and ranchers have been recognized as CARES farms, including the 2018 Farm Family of the Year.
The farms that have been recognized as CARES farms are given a sign to display on their farm that shows they are stewards of the environment.
“Florida agriculture is actively involved in protecting natural resources,” said Hilliard towards the end of her presentation.
Ending her talk, Hilliard encouraged those who wanted to learn about Farm City Week or This Farm CARES to visit with the Jefferson County Farm Bureau office or to visit thisfarmcares.org.