“Dynamic synergy” – FFVA’s first Emerging Leader Development Class graduates

The first class of the new FFVA Emerging Leader Development Program will graduate in September at FFVA 2012 in Naples. The year-long program was a success and drew praise from members of the inaugural class. FFVA thanks the many people who contributed to the program as financial partners, speakers, and hosts throughout the year.

An event-packed year

FFVA directors hatched the idea for the Emerging Leader Development Program in the summer of 2011.

“For Florida agriculture to continue to persevere into the future, a new generation of leaders has to be cultivated. We must recognize, nurture and empower these selected individuals through leadership development opportunities,” board Chairman Drew Duda said at the time.

ELDP class members sort shirts to be given to parents of children attending Redlands Christian Migrant Association programs.

ELDP class members sort shirts to be given to parents of children attending Redlands Christian Migrant Association programs.

The program has three objectives: to provide young leaders with a depth of knowledge of the many issues facing agriculture and the tools to deal with those issues; to prepare them to advocate for agriculture so they can improve the sustainability and economic viability of the specialty crop industry; and to improve the grassroots engagement and involvement in FFVA and other industry organizations.

Soon after the program was announced, FFVA put out the word to recruit its first class. Both grower and trade members of FFVA were encouraged to nominate individuals ages 25 to 40 within their organizations or families to participate in the program. Participants had to be working in or pursuing a career in Florida’s specialty crop industry.

The Emerging Leader Development Program was launched with $10,000 in seed money from a grant administered through the Farm Credit System Foundation, Inc.’s Douglas Sims Fund for Rural Leadership, as well as FFVA member contributions.

A group of 10 was selected, and the class members were introduced to each other and to industry members at last year’s FFVA convention. It was the beginning of an exciting ride for the class and for its executive director, Sonia Tighe.

Class 1 members are Rob Atchley of A. Duda and Sons, Andy Ballard of Hundley Farms, Heather Banky of U.S. Sugar Corp., Michael Hill of Lakeshore Growers Inc., Jennifer Hodges of The Andersons Inc., Elizabeth Malek of Glades Crop Care Inc., Justin Roberson of Lipman Produce, April Roe Porter of Wm. G. Roe & Sons Inc., Adam Trott of Rabo AgriFinance, and Rachel Walters of Bayer CropScience.

“There was a very dynamic synergy within this class, and from the very first session they came in fully prepared to learn, participate, and take all this information and energy and put it back into the organization and industry to make a difference,” Tighe said.

“As anyone can tell from the newsletters that the class has written, they dig into the details of production and industry issues,” she added. “They have been very focused on learning about crops and practices outside their own area of expertise. Certainly they have had a broad spectrum from in-depth sessions with the FFVA staff to learn all the areas the organization is involved in, as well as advocacy issues, to a very eye-opening legislative visit with the executive committee, to an intense production trip in Hillsborough, Polk and Manatee counties, to an extensive tour of the Salinas Valley vegetable operations in California. This group bonded and has developed relationships that will last throughout their careers.”


The ELDP class learns the ins and outs of the Florida Capitol from FFVA's Butch Calhoun.

They began their journey in November with a trip to FFVA’s Maitland office. FFVA President Mike Stuart discussed the role of associations and how they help to shape agricultural public policy. The group also heard from FFVA Labor Relations Director Mike Carlton, who gave an overview of the current labor situation. FFVA Director of Public Affairs Lisa Lochridge talked with them about FFVA communication to membership, media and the public at large, and South Florida grower (and FFVA Executive Committee member) Paul Orsenigo discussed some of the issues confronting farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, talked about some of the challenges tomato growers have dealt with in the past year. Kerry Kates, FFVA’s director of water and natural resources, discussed water quality and quantity issues. Tighe talked about effective strategies in influencing opinions, and Florida Grower Editor Frank Giles had a wide-ranging discussion with the group about a variety of topics, including social media. They also heard from Dr. Hannah Carter of the Wedgworth Leadership Institute.

“Our class took away a great deal of knowledge from that experience,” said class member Michael Hill. “That, in turn, will help us continue to improve ourselves and the industry.”

The group also completed a service project, a “Share Your Shirts” drive to benefit the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. The class members solicited donations of long-sleeved shirts to be given to the parents of children who are enrolled in some of RCMA’s centers. At the end of the seminar they sorted and folded the shirts, which were then delivered to RCMA in Plant City.

The ELDP has expanded my knowledge from growth and production all the way to environmental and governmental impacts of agriculture.”  -Andy Ballard

Their next stop was Tallahassee. The group spent two days in February getting a firsthand look at the state legislative process and FFVA’s activities to protect and promote Florida agriculture. Herschel Vinyard, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, met with the group to talk about his agency’s priorities. And they joined FFVA’s executive committee in thanking legislators for their work helping Florida agriculture while urging their support for several ag-related bills. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Assistant Commissioner Mike Joyner joined the group at dinner to discuss the school nutrition program Putnam is championing.

Next for the group was a trip to agriculture production areas in Central Florida. The jam-packed trip through Hillsborough and Polk counties included field and packinghouse tours at Wm. G. Roe & Sons, SunnyRidge Farms/Dole, DiMare Fresh, Lipman and Wish Farms. The class also met with representatives of other aspects of the industry, including staff and children of the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, the owners of Keel & Curley Winery, researchers at UF Gulf Coast Research and Education Center and more.


Jennifer Hodges bonds with an RCMA student.

To cap the program, The ELDP class traveled to California to get a firsthand look at crops and production practices in a different area of the country and to learn about issues affecting growers there. The group traveled to Salinas, Castroville, Watsonville, King City and San Juan Bautista, making stops at berry farms, vineyards and other operations.

“We had a very successful and highly educational trip to California,” said Tighe. “The class was able to see the breadth and scope of production in the Salinas Valley. An even greater treat was that at some companies the president or CEO met personally with the group and gave them insight on their industry,” Tighe said.

Class member Justin Roberson said, “It was interesting to see other facilities and gain an understanding for the diversity of operations within agriculture. But what I found even more interesting — and perhaps more valuable — was to see and understand the diversity in operational culture. There’s a progressive air to the California operations. It’s optimistic and energetic. It’s also rooted deeply in being resourceful,” he said.

After the California trip, Tighe polled class members to see what they thought they gained from the program.

Sampling wine in California.

Ballard said he had “expanded my scope of agricultural knowledge, made many great friends and connections, and have many fond memories of unique experiences I most likely would not have had if I wasn’t chosen to participate in the ELDP. … The ELDP has expanded my knowledge from growth and production all the way to environmental and governmental impacts of agriculture.”

Trott added that he values the relationships that have been established through the program. “Through our sessions in the fields, the board room and the state capital, I have formed friendships with a diverse group of individuals and have a much better understanding of the many hats farmers and agribusiness leaders need to wear in order to succeed in today’s agriculture industry.”

Atchley said the program has expanded his horizons.  “I take a much wider view of the world of agriculture than before.  I have been able to see different challenges as they relate to different growers of different crops in different states.  I have also been able to see that though we are separated by geography, we are all subject to many of the same challenges: markets, government, Mother Nature, and neighbors.  It is a very small world indeed.”

Next year’s class announced

Twelve promising young leaders have been chosen for Class 2. They are: Jonathan Allen, R.C. Hatton, Inc.; Nicholas Basore, TKM Bengard Farms; Ian Bessell, ABC Research Laboratories; Lee Ann Hinton Coleman, Hinton Farms Produce; Thomas Dalton, Farm Credit of Central Florida; Carleton Johns, Tater Farms; Jessica Kerstein, Lipman Produce; Amber Kosinsky, Wish Farms; Christian Miller, Glades Crop Care; Tom Mitchell, Riverfront Packing Co.; Derek Orsenigo, Grower’s Management, Inc.; and Joby Sherrod, A. Duda & Sons.

You can meet Classes 1 and 2 of the ELDP at FFVA 2012 Sept. 19-21 at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples. Learn more about the program here.

If you are interested in contributing to FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program and being part of its success story, please contact Sonia Tighe at sonia.tighe@ffva.com.

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