– Florida Strawberry Growers Association’s Glenda McNary retires –
Glenda Sloan McNary has had her feet firmly planted in the Florida strawberry industry since Ronald Reagan was a brand-new president.
McNary, a former legal secretary, joined the Florida Strawberry Growers Association in 1982 when it was first organized. Grower Tommy Brock, one of the association’s five founding members, encouraged her to apply, and grower Bob Hinton hired her to help recruit and organize new members.
After 33 years, McNary decided to retire last month from her post as director of member services and community relations.
In the early days, she and Dr. Chip Hinton, FSGA’s first executive director, were the association’s only employees. They worked in a cramped office rented from the Plant City Chamber of Commerce. Later, they moved to the Plant City Farmers Market.
“During the first 10 years, it was just me and Chip,” McNary said. “Then we hired our first marketing director, and a few years later we hired someone to handle member services, because that had become a full-time job. I was mainly doing the books at that time, but I moved back into member services in 2009.”
McNary is bittersweet about her retirement because she’s very proud of the work FSGA has done over the years in research, patenting and royalties, and marketing Florida’s berries. She’s also proud of the contributions the association and its members have made to their communities.
The Florida Strawberry Growers Association represents the majority of Florida strawberry growers who more than 10,000 acres of strawberries in the state, mostly in the Plant City-Dover area. FSGA offers associate memberships to allied industries who support the growers.
FSGA is a voluntary organization. Growers pay $50 per planted acre as dues. Handlers pay 2 cents a flat, and associate members have their choice of several levels of membership.
One of FSGA’s most important jobs is overseeing and funding research. “We moved to our present facility about 10 years ago,” McNary said. “We’re located in a former strawberry research lab that moved and is now the University of Florida’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center at Balm.” Hillsborough County deeded this property to the association with the understanding that it would continue to conduct and support strawberry research. FSGA has contributed millions of dollars to strawberry research since 1982, she said.
FSGA’s wholly owned sister organization, Florida Strawberry Patent Service Corp., holds exclusive rights to license agreements for growing Florida patented strawberry varieties around the world. The association issues licenses, collects royalties and sends monies to fund additional variety research.
The Gulf Coast Research and Education Center has patented nine Florida strawberry varieties since 1992 that are marketed worldwide. Royalties collected from these varieties have made Florida Strawberry Patent Service Corp. the second largest source of royalty funding of all UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences varieties.
Because of the association’s longstanding history of funding strawberry research, IFAS allows Florida Strawberry Patent Service Corp. to rebate between 50 cents and $5 per thousand plants to FSGA members.
“The nurseries that grow our Florida strawberry patented varieties are mostly in Canada,” said McNary. “But we do have some in North Carolina and California. We get our research dollars through royalties paid on those plants when the growers buy them. Of course, they order millions of plants, and according to the amount of rebate they get back depends on what variety they’re purchasing. If you’re a member of FSGA in good standing, you get a rebate in November for the year before. The rebate is the biggest member service we have. In most instances, the growers will receive more in rebates than they actually pay in dues.”
In addition to the rebate program, FSGA offers its members important information. “We keep the growers in tune by constantly checking new regulations and new laws – things like Wage & Hour, housing, water permits – anything that would pertain to the growers’ business,” McNary said. “We keep them updated via email blasts. Also, anytime there is a seminar of interest, such as FFVA’s Labor Forum, we make sure they’re aware of that.”
Another priority of the association, McNary points out, is providing scholarships to deserving young people. A popular annual event at the Florida Strawberry Festival is the Best Flat Contest, which raises funds for scholarships. The association also supports causes such as Florida Agriculture in the Classroom, youth sports, Hillsborough County Agventure and various fairs and festivals.
Although McNary has mixed feelings about retirement, she says the organization is in excellent hands. She praised Executive Director Kenneth Parker and said her replacement, UF graduate Tiffany Dale, is “wonderful.” Dale has been a volunteer for six years, helping with events and lending a hand whenever it was needed. “She’s sweet and vivacious and eager to be a part of the strawberry business,” McNary said. Dale now serves as director of member services and community relations.
McNary is leaving on a personal high note. During a recent industry event, Agritech, she was praised for her many years of hard work on behalf of the strawberry growers. “People said really sweet things and there was a standing ovation,” she said.
McNary didn’t grow up on a farm, but her father worked for many years in the agriculture industry for Asgrow Florida. “He worked for 40 years in the ag business and I worked for 33. It’s been a real journey. I think it says a lot about what we’re doing here by the fact that we’re still here 33 years later and FSGA is still able to charge a voluntary assessment. Everything we receive is all voluntary.”
And now, the beach is on McNary’s horizon. “I’m going to take it easy – spend some time at the beach with my best friend and her husband. We’ve been friends since we were 13,” she said.