It all started with the carrot trucks that roll through the Suwannee Valley. There are enough of them that they got the attention of a congressional aide who asked John Walt Boatright where they were coming from.
John Walt told him “Glad you asked” and said he’d set up a visit for the congressman to a carrot farm. As soon as they finished their grits and eggs and left the Dixie Grill, John Walt called his high school agriculture teacher. De Townsend the teacher has since become De Broughton the UF/IFAS Extension regional specialized agent for row crops.
De, in turn, called the carrot farmers she knows best—her father and her uncle. Congressman Neal Dunn got his appointment to walk the rows. John Walt invited another important mentor and one of the region’s foremost carrot experts—Bob Hochmuth—to the meeting.
As a kid, John Walt got his first exposure to production agriculture through school field trips to what is now called North Florida Research and Education Center—Suwannee Valley (NFREC-SV), where Bob is assistant director. John Walt invited Bob to meet the congressman at the carrot farm to pitch a proposal to boost research into alternative crops that will shape the Congressional District 2 farm of the future.
Bob invited Rep. Dunn for a second farm visit—to NFREC-SV—and Dunn accepted Rep. Dunn saw and tasted a lot (including a lunch catered by the Dixie Grill supplemented by Bob’s tomatoes and cucumbers) in the three hours we had with him. The representative paid close attention, asked important questions and even hopped up onto the back of a carrot harvester with Bob.
Because the Capitol was closed off to lobbyists during the pandemic, John Walt had to do a lot of advocating for Florida farmers in D.C. without going to D.C. Nor was he able to organize the annual “Field to the Hill” Florida farmer delegation to deliver constituents to legislators’ offices. So he’s turned that on its head and proceeded with a strategy that FFBF President John Hoblick calls “Hill to the Field.”
The event exemplified the great land-grant trifecta—academia, government and industry. That partnership is lived out through its people—faculty, feds and farmers. It’s us educating John Walt (his degree is from our College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Department of Food and Resource Economics), and John Walt arranging for elected officials to visit our facilities to deepen their understanding of the important role science plays in Florida agriculture.
It’s John Walt’s high school agriculture teacher-turned-Extension-specialist giving a congressman a three-minute education on peanuts and carrots, and then handing the microphone to a man who is still presenting agricultural science to visitors decades after John Walt first visited the farm as an elementary school student.
Rep. Dunn supports our proposal to invest in NFREC-SV in part because his Farm Bureau constituents support it. He can see how that investment will be used because John Walt gave us the opportunity to show him.
By connecting Hill to Field, John Walt drew upon existing relationships and created new ones.
I don’t miss D.C. I much prefer working directly with faculty and farmers in Florida. But when John Walt says it’s time to resume Field to the Hill, I’ll be ready.