U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden traveled to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) to kick-off Graham’s 2016 North Florida Farm Tour on Jan. 19.
The highly anticipated event featured a panel discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing minority, women, and veteran farmers.
As a member of the House Agriculture Committee and a representative for the largest congressional district in the state, U.S. Rep. Graham has made it her mission to ensure that the next generation of farmers in North Florida are able to identify and take advantage of both state and federal resources that will allow them to help sustain their agribusinesses.
While welcoming Rep. Graham to the campus, FAMU President Elmira Mangum, Ph.D., explained to the crowd of more than 200 farmers, students, and community members that FAMU has a storied history of providing agricultural research and opportunities to Florida, making the University a perfect starting point for the farm tours.
“Our research and development of the Brooksville property will be a statement and a testament to the reach that Florida A&M University can have in the field of agriculture,” Mangum said. “We can lead the effort in developing initiatives for food safety, security, as well as energy and water resource problems.”
As one of only two land-grant universities in Florida, Rep. Graham said she was honored to begin her farm tour with a stop at a university that contributes greatly to Florida’s agriculture industry.
“Farming is, in fact, the backbone of our economy, and I am proud of all that FAMU is doing to grow agriculture in North Florida,” Graham said. “It has been what I have been working on in terms of finding ways we can help North Florida farmers.”
During the panel discussion, Graham explained that one way she has assisted farmers is by working with the USDA to designate North Florida as a StrikeForce. According to USDA Deputy Secretary Harden, the StrikeForce is designed to help rural communities leverage their assets by creating partnerships that benefit high-poverty areas.
That news was major for Tuesday’s participating panelists. The panel included farmer Caria Hawkins, New North Florida Cooperative Owner Glyen Holmes, retired U.S. Armed Forces member James Hills, and FAMU College of Agriculture and Food Sciences student Therus Brown.
As current and prospective farm owners, the panel members all brought distinct perspectives about developing the next generation of farmers and agribusiness leaders. Though each panelist had a unique story about how they became interested in the agriculture industry, they all shared a deep love for farming and a passion for seeing minority farmers thrive.