Posted by: Terrie Dodson, Cristo Rey Tampa High School on Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Agriculture and Port Tampa Bay are the backbones of the industries that fuel Tampa Bay. On March 9, the Leadership Tampa Class of 2022 set out to explore Port Tampa Bay and the agriculture industry located just off the I-4 corridor. 


LT '22 boarded a bus and set the wheels in motion for the day, and it started pretty sweet! Fancy Farms Stand, located in Lakeland, FL, was the first stop. Representatives from MOSAIC, the Day Sponsor, brought greetings to the group and shared agriculture's greater importance and impact. This 120-acre farm run by Carl and Dustin Grooms gave a glimpse at the life of a strawberry grower in the winter strawberry capital of the world, Plant City. They also shared what happens outside of the strawberry season when the farm grows various crops such as peas, okra, and blackberries, to name a few. 

The bulk harvest of the growers gets transferred to shippers like Wish Farms, which happened to be the group's second stop. Started by Russian immigrants more than 100 years ago, this family-owned business found its way to Plant City, Florida. Wish Farms packages, distributes, and ships berries throughout the world. A tour of Wish Farms took the group through their state-of-the-art processing facilities, including the blueberry and strawberry packing rooms. The large, automated process takes truckloads of berries and gently packages them into plastic containers for resale quickly and efficiently. Touring through their operations headquarters, one can tell that the Wish family encourages new ideas and innovation. This company continues to evolve as an innovator with an open contemporary office space that inspires creativity and thought to a chance to literally "slide" into your next idea.  

You can't talk about strawberries and Plant City without visiting the Florida Strawberry Festival – third stop! The Strawberry Festival showcases local agriculture and livestock and has all things strawberry. A welcome and greetings were given by Paul Davis, President, and Phil Waldron, Chairman of the Board of the Florida Strawberry Festival. This family-friendly atmosphere is so popular that it attracts national recording artists for spring concerts to the quiet town of Plant City. A highlight of the Strawberry Festival is the livestock arena where local FFA (Future Farmers of America) students showcase the livestock they raised and earn dollars for their college. Three FFA students shared the impact that agriculture and showing livestock has had on their futures. 

LT '22 spent the second portion of Port Tampa Bay & Agriculture Day touring the Port via the Yacht Starship. With Charles Klug, General Counsel at Port Tampa Bay, narrating the Port's story, the class cruised to Tampa Ship and Ports America. From these ports, as much as 40% of the state's fuel resources make their way through the state of Florida. This includes jet fuel for national defense at MacDill Air Force Base and fuel for tourism at Tampa International Airport. As a result, port Tampa Bay represents one of the largest economies in the United States. In addition, to break bulk items, the Port easily handles perishable foods like that of Dole Fresh Fruit via its large, refrigerated shipping containers and warehouse. However, historically, the largest export from the area is fertilizer produced from local mines.

Ports America is the largest operator within the Port and is in its 16th year of a 40-year lease with the Port Authority. Their leading service consists of transporting lumber and steel, and they are adding three additional cranes to keep up with the demand.


The shipbuilding and repair industry is another focal point of the Port, and its businesses are responsible for 85,000 jobs. As the 6th largest shipbuilding state in the United States, this industry offers many opportunities for specialty trades such as craftsmen and apprenticeships. The demand for workers is so great that the Port promotes shipping and Maritime interests under the Propeller Club through a program with Jefferson High School.  

The day ended for LT with a cruise back to the docks near Sparkman Wharf. As the sun set on this exploration, the Leadership Tampa Class reflected on the deeper appreciation for their discoveries. This group of leaders has learned about the vital industries in our backyard. With this new knowledge, they will go on to promote and cultivate interests that will expand and improve commerce in the Tampa Bay area. 

Special thanks to:  

Day Sponsor: Mosaic and representatives Sarah Fedorchuk and Nikki Foster (LT' 18)

Day Chairs: Dennis Manelli (LT'17) General Counsel, Hendry Marine Industries and Angel Wynn (LT'19) Permitting Specialist, Mosaic

Fancy Farms 

Wish Farms 

Strawberry Festival

Yacht Starship

Hendry Marine

Port Tampa Bay

Tampa Ship

Ports America