If Florida agriculture is on the agenda, chances are Brittany Lee is on—or leading—the committee.
The executive director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, Brittany is a leader in the Florida agriculture scene and beyond. But she didn’t always see herself doing what she does today.
The daughter of a University of Florida alumni and a Gator herself, Brittany graduated from UF with an initial interest in politics, working in Tallahassee for a while before returning home to north-central Florida to work for her family’s real estate firm, which specializes in agricultural and rural properties.
After the 2008 real estate bubble burst, the firm reacquired 100 acres of land just outside of Gainesville. Brittany began looking into ways to use the property.
“I was interested in blueberries, so I Googled ’UF blueberries’ and found my way to Paul Lyrene, the blueberry breeder at the time for UF/IFAS,” Brittany said. Dr. Lyrene is often credited as the father of the Florida blueberry industry.
She and Dr. Lyrene talked for an hour and a half about everything needed to grow blueberries in Florida.
“There was a lot involved,” she said. “We looked into other crops after that, but eventually, I came back to blueberries. I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
In 2010, Brittany planted the first 50 acres of UF-bred southern highbush blueberries. Since then, the farm, called Florida Blue Farms, has scaled up to 110 acres.
The farm is a posterchild for precision agriculture. The land is sloped, so irrigation water runs into a tailwater recovery pond. During a freeze, the farm can draw on that pond to spray the blueberry bushes with water and protect the crop. About a dozen weather stations are scattered throughout the property, collecting information about each of the farm’s microclimates. In the soil, moisture probes help time irrigation, while drones fly overhead, scoping out plant health and drainage issues. In 2016, the farm received the CARES award for environmental stewardship from Florida Farm Bureau, and in 2017 the Commissioner of Agriculture’s Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
As she and her family were developing Florida Blue Farms, Brittany was also making her mark in the area of agricultural policy and advocacy, serving on many boards and committees at the state and national level. In 2017, she was appointed as the Florida delegate for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, and in 2019, she was appointed to the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade for Fruits and Vegetables. Before she was the executive director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, she was the association’s president.
Ever since that call with Dr. Lyrene, Brittany has seen UF/IFAS as a resource in her business and advocacy work.
“The IFAS blueberry breeding program is a partner with the Florida Blueberry Association. It’s in the best interest of our industry that universities and growers work together, and it is because of UF/IFAS that our once boutique industry of 400 acres is now the cornerstone of domestic blueberry production ” she said.
Brittany is also an alumna of the UF/IFAS Wedgworth Leadership Institute. “That experience has had a lifelong impact for me. It gave me and others in my class a chance to understand leadership and agricultural issues at the local, state, national and international level,” she said.
For Brittany, leadership is driven by a desire to influence positive change in one’s community or profession. And to be a leader, you have to go where the decisions are being made, she said.
“There’s a saying: The world is run by those who show up,” Brittany said. That attitude is ingrained in the agricultural community.
“When the pandemic hit, that was peak harvest season in Florida. While many people were working from home, farmers were out there producing food and getting it to people who needed it. They showed up for us,” she said. “That’s why it’s important for consumers to show up for agriculture and support our Florida Farms.”
As we get through these unprecedented times, one thing is for sure: Brittany Lee will be there, advocating for Florida agriculture.
About this Series: The year 2020 commemorates the centennial year of the passage of the 19th Amendment, a crucial achievement in the women’s suffrage movement. This milestone reminds us of the collective spirit marshaled to enact this change. Throughout the year, UF/IFAS is highlighting female researchers, educators, staff members, students and innovators who embodied a similar trailblazing spirit during their engagement with the university. These trailblazers left an indelible mark on both the university and the state of Florida. The 19th Amendment states, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” although some women were still denied the right to vote until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s. We hope this series inspires others to ignite their own trailblazing spirit and effect change in our world.