FORT PIERCE, Fla.—Fort Pierce native DeVoshay “Shay” Johnson Jr. remembers frequent visits to his great-grandparents’ Tallahassee fruit groves and fresh produce stand during his youth. Rows of ripe, golden mangoes with accents of peach and lime colors sat alongside boxes of oranges and pods of okra.
“Agriculture gave my ancestors independence through their success with small business,” said Johnson. “I want to pursue a career in agricultural research because food is something that is always needed.”
Ruby’s Produce market remains in operation at the state’s capital, known today as Ruby’s Cakes and Pies, and offers sweets and ready to eat meals, alongside groceries.
Johnson’s parents are college-educated and have successful careers. Devoshay Johnson, Sr., is the City of Fort Pierce’s Information Technology Director and Chaplain for the Fort Pierce Police Department. Johnson’s mother teaches pre-school at St. Andrews Christian Academy.
After graduating from Fort Pierce Westwood High School, Johnson Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces. Before discharge from the United States Navy and returning to civilian life, he worked as a 3rd Class Petty Officer Electricians Mate.
Johnson returned to Fort Pierce, and a family friend, Donald Davis, told him about an opening for an agricultural assistant at the local University of Florida Indian River Research and Education Center (UF/IRREC). The center is part of the university’s statewide agriculture and natural resources protection service.
Johnson began the new position and worked in the research fields. His work was to plant, mow and harvest experimental crops to help research and maintain the research fields.
“As an agricultural assistant, I realized how much value the citrus industry has to Florida’s economy and how many people are employed to grow fresh citrus in this region,” said Johnson.
Johnson left the position for about six weeks but sought a new position at IRREC as a research assistant for Salman Alshami, a postdoctoral associate. Under Alshami, Johnson investigates possible candidates for biological control to manage citrus pests such as rust mites and red mites. The two mites are major pest insects in protected agriculture mesh screenhouses where high-quality grapefruit grows.
Johnson’s days begin with fieldwork to monitor pests and biological control agents inside the protected agriculture systems. His work continues in the laboratory, where he observes the insects’ behavior and performs experiments with their diets.
Johnson iterates the citrus industry’s economic contribution to Florida’s economy and the number of people who love to produce the fresh fruit crop.
“My positions at IRREC have reminded me that I like agriculture,” said Johnson. “Food production offers a way to work outdoors, and what I learn at IRREC to me is important.”
Johnson plans to earn an associate in arts degree in agriculture and pursue a bachelor’s degree in the same topic.
“I know the local citrus industry has declined because of a tree disease,” said Johnson. “I want to be a part of the research that helps this important crop in Florida—and especially in the Indian River District – because our citrus is the world’s best citrus.”