UF Alumnus Honored With Award of Distinction from College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – While attending the University of Florida, J.J. Grow admired his teachers in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department. Three professors in particular – Gary Fairchild, Burl Long and Gene Trotter – made a lasting impression on Grow and influenced his career. They weren’t only teachers to Grow; they were dedicated, lifelong mentors.
After establishing a distinguished agribusiness career, Grow wanted to recognize these faculty members through endowed scholarships named in their honor. The scholarships support students in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), the college from which Grow graduated.
Grow fondly remembers the lessons that Fairchild, Long and Trotter taught him. Fairchild provided notes at the end of class so students could fully engage in listening to and participating in lessons, a practice Grow utilizes in his business leadership meetings. Grow learned the importance of hand-written thank you notes from Trotter, which has helped Grow through many business partnerships. Long taught Grow the value of meaningful work by showing that you get out of things what you put into them.
“I want people to know those gentlemen who made a difference in my life,” Grow said. “They were teachers who made a difference. They built relationships with us, which sets the faculty in IFAS apart from others.”
At the Oct. 5 UF/IFAS Dinner of Distinction, J.J. Grow was recognized as the recipient of the 2018 CALS Alumni and Friends Award of Distinction for outstanding contributions to the agriculture industry and his loyal support of the college.
“CALS is grateful for J.J. Grow’s investment in our students,” said CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “His dedication to the college serves as an example of ways in which students can give back to future CALS students when they become alumni.”
Supporting CALS scholarships is one of the many ways Grow and his wife Jennifer support the communities around them. In addition to their church, Our Lady of Fatima, the Grows support Citrus County Blessings in a Backpack, Operation Outdoor Freedom and the national and Florida FFA organizations. They also provide scholarships to students in their local community of Inverness.
“I give back because I believe those things made me and molded me into the person I am today,” Grow said. “I give back to those who have given me so much. I hope it inspires others to do the same.”
Today, Grow is the chairman of Verdesian Life Sciences, an agribusiness focused on sustainable farming practices that he co-founded in 2012. He continues to work with UF/IFAS by utilizing its patents that have resulted from research conducted by UF/IFAS faculty. Prior to Verdesian, Grow co-founded Gro-Pro LLC with his wife Jennifer and a friend.
Grow attributes his business management abilities to the versatility of his CALS major as well as to the wide variety of electives offered, such as agricultural policy and farm-firm management courses. He adds that the public speaking and writing course requirements of the college helped him develop essential and practical communication skills.
“It’s a huge thing for our students to gain and have the ability to speak and present themselves well,” Grow said. “It changes your job interviews and the company or cause you represent. Everything gets bumped up a couple notches if you can speak about yourself or your cause well.”
Grow has served on several boards and advisory councils including Crop Life America, Florida FFA Foundation and Florida FFA Alumni, to name a few. He completed the Wedgworth Leadership Institute and remains an active alumnus of the program. Grow is generous with his time in mentoring local students, showing them the value of a UF and CALS degree.
As someone who worked while attending college full-time, Grow understands the value of a CALS scholarship. He was a recipient of the John F. Smoak Memorial Scholarship through the college. Grow encourages students to study harder than anyone else and to be willing to work harder than those around them.
“Anything is possible through hard work and experience,” Grow said in his advice to future and current CALS students. “Gain all the experience you can. Don’t let hard work keep you from being all that you can be. There is no easy path to success.”
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.