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By Katie Cardenas

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Katie Cardenas

My name is Katie Cardenas and I am an agricultural education and communications major at the University of Florida. I am working as an intern for the UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Program helping to create a beginning farmer and rancher program.  Most of my time is spent in Gainesville collecting information on already existing beginning farmer programs around the country as well as getting farmers’ input. However, I recently went on a field trip to shadow Mary Beth Henry from UF/IFAS Polk County Extension to learn more about the diversity of Extension programs and visit farmers in the region.

I visited Mary Beth on Friday and Saturday during June 2016 and my two days there were spent constantly on the go. Mary Beth began my trip by introducing me to several Extension agents around the office and asked them to tell me what they do so that I could get a better understanding of Extension. After listening to all of the Extension agents talk to me about their focus and the tasks they do, I really began to realize how broad Extension really is. It supports the life of Florida residents in so many ways, from helping all types of farmers to educating the general public.

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Gary Farmer from Fiddlers Ridge Farm & Winery in Lake Wales

We had planned to help out at a harvesting program that provides produce for food banks, however due to a thunderstorm that week, all the Southern High Bush blueberries were gone. Luckily for me, the alternative was meeting farmers in Polk County.

First, I met Cindy and Gary of Fiddlers Ridge Farm & Winery at their store in Lake Wales. Cindy and Gary are married and produce fruit and make blueberry, honey, and peach wine. This was my fist time behind the scenes of a winery and it was really interesting! Cindy explained to me how they make their wine and told me it takes two and half pounds of blueberries to create one bottle of wine, which was a lot more than I expected. I guess due to the fact that I hadn’t put much thought about the process behind wine. Even though I already respect and appreciate farmers, I really enjoy going to see and talk to them so that I can get a better understanding about what they do and help educate people about farming when I get the chance.

Our next stop was dinner where we shared a meal with Retta Baucom, the farm manager at Shady Oaks Farm in Lakeland. Retta was celebrating her birthday and provided us with dinner. Everything was homemade and off the farm.

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Retta Baucom from Shady Oaks Farm in Lakeland

Needless to say, it was delicious. Mary Beth showed me around after dinner teaching me about the different fruits and vegetables that we saw. Shady Oaks primarily grows commercial blueberries for sale at grocery stores, but also sells berries for U-pick. They had a large garden and grew a little bit of everything for their own pleasure. It was really great to see the relationship between Mary Beth and Retta. They were more than just work friends: they are genuinely close friends. It showed me the importance of good relationships in Extension. The more a farmer trusts the people in Extension the more they can talk to them and find out what they could do to help.

Mary Beth took me to the Brew Hub before heading back to the hotel room. The Brew Hub is a brewing company that allows microbrewers to scale up and distribute their own unique beer nationally and internationally. They also offer assistance in sales, marketing, and logistics. They keep the atmosphere that most local breweries have, along with selling beer from different breweries around the United States. I would recommend anyone traveling through Lakeland to stop by this great operation.

Saturday morning, Mary Beth took me to talk to Fatima Gill at True Blue Winery in Davenport. Fatima explained her business to me and how it started as only a winery. After adding two years under her belt, she added a bistro. She runs the business with her husband, Howard. I was so impressed! Personally, the idea of having a winery and a bistro on the same property is brilliant. I love that guests literally see the farm before walking into the bistro. It was clear that she is extremely passionate about what she does and that made our whole conversation very enjoyable. She described the obstacles that she has had to deal with over the years that go along with being involved in these two extremely difficult industries. Despite these obstacles, she still manages to keep a smile on her face at all times and loves what she does.

All this talk and excitement about growing vegetables, fruits, and plants throughout the trip, made me realize just how clueless I am in the horticultural area. Most of my experience in agriculture has to do with livestock but, after going on this trip and working in the horticulture building all summer, I’ve really realized how beneficial it would be for me to learn more about horticulture. As a result, I signed up for a vegetable gardening class in the fall.


Check out the farms and businesses Katie visited in Polk County:

Satsumas Return to North Florida

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Tour a Satsuma Grove on October 11.

There was a time when citrus production was booming in North Florida. In the 1920’s, Jackson County, Florida, was known as the satsuma capital of the world. Satsuma is a citrus variety with excellent eating quality that is cold heady and matures early. Back then, there were about 3,000 acres of satsumas growing in the region, and the town of Marianna organized yearly satsuma festivals. That all changed in 1935 when hard freezes devastated the industry by killing the trees. The satsumas did not come back, and producers turned to other crops for income.

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Mack Glass

Satsumas were missing from the North Florida landscape until farmer-pioneer Mack Glass became interested in this crop as a way to diversify his farm. Federal payments for agronomic crops started to slide in the 1990’s and the time was right to look for alternative crops. In 1999, Mack attended an agricultural summit where the take-away message was, you either become a mega farm or you pursue niche production. “I decided to pursue a niche product,” said Mack, who decided to plant 6 acres of satsuma mandarins in the year 2002 with the help of UF/IFAS staff. Along with two other farmer friends, they formed the Cherokee Citrus Cooperative. Mack estimates that there are now about 30 acres of satsumas growing in the region.

Innovative Freeze Protection

Freezing temperatures destroyed the industry in the 1930’s and according to Mack, it continues to be the major threat to the industry. However, one of the main factors that convinced him to give satsumas a try was a micro irrigation technology that could help the trees withstand the hard freezes in North Florida. The freeze protection system works because heat is released when water turns into ice. The heat protects the tree and allows it to survive.

In January 2003, a year after he had planted the satsuma trees, his grove passed its biggest test to date. The temperature was 15 degrees, but thanks to the micro emitters he only lost one tree. “Some years we haven’t used the frost protection irrigation at all, like last year. On the other hand, there was a year where we had to use it three days straight,” he said.

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Mack’s satsuma grove

Interest in Growing Satsumas Is Increasing

There are a few more growers planting satsumas in the region, which is encouraging said Mack. “The more growers we have, the better.” Mack is not shy about sharing his experiences with others and encouraging them to plant satsumas.” I think the acreage of satsumas will continue to grow in the future, he said. Besides the threat of freezes, problems with labor availability is an important factor that makes many growers think twice about planting satsumas.

Citrus greening has not been a concern in this part of the state, and Mack reported that no disease had been detected. The low winter temperatures in the region help break the lifecycle of the Asian citrus psyllid, the vector that transmits citrus greening.

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Mack visiting Santa Rosa County Schools

There was no market for satsumas, but Mack and his fellow farmers have worked hard to put satsumas in the region’s school lunch menus. “I introduced Mr. Glass to Santa Rosa County’s Sodexo manager and they are now serving his satsumas for the county’s schools,” said Christina Walmer, a Food Systems Coordinator for the Farm to School, Farm to Community FNP-UF/IFAS Program. “We did whatever was needed to serve this market. We got insurance, food safety certification, and worked with Fresh From Florida to make this happen, we are fortunate” said Mack.  “Even when satsumas are part of the school lunches for only November and December, they have become the favorite item for many children” Mack often goes to schools and shares with students the history of satsumas and how this locally grown fruit is coming back. Some fruit is also sold at church fundraising events.

Mack was one of the first producers in Jackson County to become GAP (good agricultural practice) trained in food safety. Mack has now built a USDA approved citrus packing facility and he is hoping to join forces with more growers in the future.

Visit Mack’s Satsuma Grove on October 11

The Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference is scheduled for October 11, 2016 in Marianna, FL. The event will give participants the chance to tour Mack’s grove through an afternoon farm tour. By that date, everyone will be able to see fruit beginning to color out. Mack will lead a tour of his grove showing various aspects of his operation, including how the freeze protection works.  The conference will also offer a Protected Agriculture tour, practical workshops, conference sessions, and a trade show. A highlight of the event will be farmer and author Richard Wiswall as the Conference Keynote Speaker.

For more information and registration visit: https://pfvc.eventbrite.com. Early bird registration is $40 before September 6. Your registration includes breakfast, lunch, refreshments, educational materials and transportation to farm tour locations. The event is sponsored by UF/IFAS Extension and support in part by a Florida Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant. We look forward to seeing you there!

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Richard Wiswall

Richard Wiswall

Richard Wiswall has been a farmer for 35 years. He runs Cate Farm, a certified organic farm in Vermont  and is author of “The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook.”  Richard’s experience as a farmer is sure to resonate with all farmers who strive to manage their farm profitably. We are pleased to announce that Richard will be the keynote speaker at the Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Marianna, Florida, on October 11, 2016.

Richard’s 148-acre farm includes 25 different types of crops on 22 acres of cultivated land and seven 96-ft long greenhouses. When he started he owned only 5% of the land he farmed, and he decided to take a dive into the reality of his business. He had to overcome the fear that many small, diversified farmers have: Is my farm profitable or am I losing money here? First, he realized he needed to collect some data from his operation to understand how profitable it was. Later, during the off-season, he sat down and looked at the numbers for three days. The hard work paid off! He realized that there were some crops that were very profitable and he was losing money on others. After this realization, he decided to reduce the number of crops grown from 42 to 25 the following year. He focused on the most profitable crops, he finally saw how his farm could be profitable and viable in the long term. This gave him the confidence to go to a bank and ask for a loan to buy the land he farmed. He has been fine tuning his production strategy every year, and has observed consistent improvements.

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Richard in one of his greenhouses

In this process, Richard found that crops with high demand such as spinach, broccoli and sweet corn were not profitable at his farm. On the other hand, there were “sleeper crops,” such as kale, that were earning more money per acre than standard vegetable crops. Richard said this was the reality for his farm, but it would be different for other farms.  “For those crops that are not profitable you can either drop them or you can still grow them even when you are losing money, as long as you are aware of it. You can look at this as a promotional expense,” he said.

Richard realizes that looking at the business side of things is hard for many farmers who chose this profession to be outside working with nature. He decided to write a book to share his experiences with other farmers, and that’s how “The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook” got published. Richard regularly speaks on this topic at conferences and events across the country. “It’s about shining a light on their farm business, about understanding where the money is coming and going,” he said. “After that it is up to them to make decisions. It’s better to do it with your eyes open than with your head stuck in the sand.”

Tomatoes growing in one of Cate Farm greenhouses

Richard has seen many farmers work 80 hours a week, pay their workers little, and not get ahead. “They will never say this is what I want to do the rest of my life. They leave farming all together, they burn up”. To be truly sustainable you have to have a manageable, balanced life. Ultimately a farmer’s only job is to make sure that the farm survives; if you can’t make payroll then it’s over.” he said.

Applying Richard’s methods to analyze your farm requires some dedication.  As a first step, he recommends to analyzing your five top crops. “I don’t like recordkeeping”, Richard says, “I do it because it has worked. The only thing you have to do is to calculate rate checks. How much time it takes to plant a bed, weeding, and the like, you don’t have to track every time”. Richard recommends looking into Phone apps such as BeetClock http://www.beetclock.com/  to use your smartphone to facilitate recordkeeping.

Besides the keynote speech, Richards will also lead a 2-hour workshop in the afternoon of the conference. In this workshop titled “Determine Your Costs of Production: Farm Budgets Made Simple,” he will work on demystifying this process for you. “You will learn to do this anytime you want. We’ll spend two hours simplifying this process and the hope is that farmers will embrace and practice this in their operations,” he said.

To learn more about Richard Wiswall and Cate Farm visit www.richardwiswall.com and www.catefarm.com.


The Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference will provide a great networking space and share practical farming knowledge that can help farmers across the region. The event will take place on October 11 at the Jackson County Agricultural Complex in Marianna, Florida.

For more information and registration visit: https://pfvc.eventbrite.com

Early bird registration is $40 before September 6. Your registration includes lunch, refreshments, educational materials and transportation to farm tour locations. We look forward to seeing you there!

Agritourism Building Code Rule Development

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By Mary Beth Henry, UF/IFAS Extension Polk County and co-leader for Small Farms Extension team

As you may know, non-residential farm buildings are exempt from Florida building codes.  That’s great for sheds and barns to house agricultural equipment, however, once those buildings come into use to host the public, questions have surfaced as to which set of rules apply.  Add to that the variability based on different interpretations of what should apply and many agritourism operations and local authorities have found themselves in a frustrating position.  No one wants to put the public at risk, but requirements for full scale infrastructure investment can seem out of touch for open door barns still in use for equipment out of season.

The Rustic Barn at Buckingham Farms in Fort Myers, FL. Photo Credit: Seth Henry

This March, changes to Florida’s Fire Prevention Code, Florida Statue 633.202, passed to provide some clarity to these questions.  Fire code as applied to agricultural buildings hosting agritourism activities has been a serious source of friction.  Interpretations varied so widely that some operations were told they would be required to invest tens of thousands of dollars into tanks and distribution systems for fire suppression, while others were given an okay as long as barn doors remain open.  Fire officials were also in a difficult position without guidance as to minimum protections required under this new use of agricultural buildings and many felt compelled to stick to the strictest interpretations of requirements in order to protect the public.

The changes in the law created different classes of agricultural buildings with different minimum fire code requirements and directs the State Fire Marshal to develop more specific rules.  Pole barns were defined as structures with at least 70% permanently open walls and were exempted from the Florida Fire Prevention Code.  After that, the classifications vary with the number of occupants and number of events, and none of these can be used for lodging or residential purposes.  Farm buildings used for 35 or less occupants and tents up to 900 square feet are exempted from Florida Fire Prevention Code.  Class 1 buildings are those used for hosting events with 100 or less people up to twelve times a year.  Class 2 host activities with up to 300 people.  Class 1 and 2 are subject to annual inspection but not the Florida Fire Prevention Code.  They will, however, be subject to rules to be adopted by the State Fire Marshal.

Class 3 buildings are those used for housing, sheltering or otherwise accommodating the general public and are subject to the full fire code requirements.  Those thinking of new construction for agritourism should consider that the agritourism law, F.S. 570.86, specifically states: “An agritourism activity does not include the construction of new or additional structures or facilities intended primarily to house, shelter, transport, or otherwise accommodate members of the general public”.

Another important change is that the new language allows local fire officials some leeway in applying the fire code to existing buildings.  It acknowledges that following some fire code provisions line by line may be impractical in existing agricultural buildings and allows fire officials to use reasonable alternatives provided in a national fire protection publication.

A hearing to review proposed fire safety rules language will be held at 1:30 p.m. on June 21 2016 at the Polk State College Public Safety Center, located at 1251 Jim Keene Blvd. in Winter Haven.  The rule development process is where the rubber meets the road in the determining the specifics of the final requirements.  See the link at the end of this article for a draft of the proposed language.

Read the law yourself here!

2016 Florida Statues 633.202 Section 16

Access the Statue here

See a draft of the proposed fire safety rules on the Florida Agritourism Association’s Facebook page here.

Meeting at Herban Gardens Farm in 2014

In 2007, a team of UF/IFAS Small Farms Extension Agents in Southwest Florida began working together to design a regional network for farmers. Now called the Southwest Florida Small Farmers Network (SWFSFN), it includes owners and operators of small- to mid-sized farms in Hillsborough and Collier Counties.  In this article, we’ll describe how it got started, how it works, and what benefits the SWFSFN has brought to farmers in the region.

The Beginning

When graduate student Robert Kluson, now a UF/IFAS Extension Agent in Sarasota County, learned about farmer groups in the Mid-west, he was inspired.  “Those farmers taught each other, carried out participatory on-farm research and promoted more self-reliance; and once I was working for UF/IFAS, I wanted to bring this to the region,” said Robert.

Nine years ago, local food was just coming on the scene, and there was a lot of interest from buyers who wanted to develop relationships with local farmers. The turning point came when several local distributors asked for Robert’s help to locate farmers. Not wanting to miss any opportunities to build relationships among farmers and buyers, Robert then pitched the idea of starting a farmer network to Roy Beckford from UF/IFAS Extension in Lee County; and that’s how it all got started. “We invited farmers who had attended previous UF/IFAS SFAE events and pitched this idea to them and they fully supported this effort,” Robert said.

Meeting at Circle C Farm in 2016

How It Works

The network is currently facilitated by UF/IFAS Extension Agents of Sarasota, Lee, Collier and Polk counties.  The goal is to meet small farmer-identified priorities, issues, and needs with farmer-to-farmer contact and educational resources.  The format of the meetings includes a farm visit that provides a farmer-narrated tour of their farm operation in conjunction with  presentations by Extension agents on topics that were preselected by a majority vote of the farmers and other members at the previous meeting.  These meetings also include a growers’ discussion of relevant issues, a pot-luck lunch and a seed swap.  Membership is open to everyone at no cost. If you desire to eat, you are encouraged to bring something to share.  Any costs associated with distribution of educational materials or demonstrations are typically paid for by IFAS Extension.

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Meeting at Geraldson CSA Farm in 2015

Within the first years of operation, the network met every other month at farms across the region. The SWFSFN now meets at least twice a year, and meeting attendance ranges from 25 to 75 farmers. The agents organize these events at small farms with integrated production systems from vegetables to aquaponics to pastured livestock.

Benefits of the Network

The network follows the farmer-to-farmer model, said Robert. “Farmers decide on topics to present or explore, issues to talk about and more. Agents present in only one hour of the three- to four-hour program. We are really only facilitators.” The conversations among farmers is always open, farmers are encouraged to express their views and concerns. For example, one group discussed the lack of regulatory support for sales of eggs and homemade goods at farmers’ markets. That conversation inspired others to take up the cause, and eventually led to the passage of the Limited Poultry and Egg Farm Operations and Cottage Foods state laws in (2011 & 2012).

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Typical Pot Luck Lunch at the meetings

The network reduced transportation costs of organic seed potatoes from the UF/IFAS Potato Program for an on-farm research project.  They have also explored collective alternative enterprises, such as biofuels and biochar production among other things. Robert thinks that these kinds of networks are needed throughout the state. “It’s a way to let farmers know they are not alone, they can meet like-minded individuals, build a network of resources and contacts and learn from each other. I hope that this type of networks becomes a standard part of the collaboration activities within IFAS County Extension agents”, Robert said.

In 2009, the SWFSFN network was recognized as the National Winner (Southern Rfor its effectiveness at building community among farmers and their service providers by the National Association of County Agricultural Agents who awarded the founding agents with the a Search for Excellence Award in the Sustainable Agriculture Program category.  The model is still relevant today, and opportunities for collaborative learning are needed more than ever.

Want to Participate?

The next network meeting is in the works.

Date: Mid to late August, 2016. (date TBD)

Location: UF/IFAS Gulf coast REC, Balm, FL

Program: Presentations and tour of the Research Center lead by Dr. Shinsuke Agehara, Small Fruits & Vegetables Program

Contact the following UF/IFAS Extension Agents in the region: