On Wednesday, March 10, the Leadership Tampa class of 2021 continued a very busy March with an exploration of the Agriculture & Port industries of Tampa Bay. The journey took them from the strawberry fields of Plant City to the heart of the Port in an eye-opening view of some of the untold stories around Tampa Bay economics including family, tradition, and the fuel behind the waterfront.
These stories involve a couple of family owned and operated businesses in Plant City, an annual festival threated to be shut down by Covid and thousands of jobs that literally fuel Tampa Bay. Ultimately, it is the people behind the industry that make it work. Whether that’s the 150 workers a day that farm the fields or the over 3,000 shipyard workers, there is always a story.
The theme of family was so obvious as the class stepped off the bus onto Fancy Farms ground. Father, son due Carl and Dustin Grooms shared the trials and tribulations of being a farmer fighting weather, labor concerns and just wondering if they will make enough to do it all again next year. While they sell their product at their farm stand in some delicious forms of milkshakes, cookies, jams and breads, ultimately, they turn their product over to another locally owned and operated family business in Wish Farms which started in New York City in 1922 before relocating to Florida in 1937. Since then, four generations have found new and innovative ways to evolve and grow the business including an all-new state of the art facility in Plant City.
Tradition, when threatened, stands tall. Key players in the community came together in the face of hardship to persevere and ultimately affect the next generation. This is best illustrated through the stories of Strawberry Festival leadership and how they fought to keep the tradition alive by spending over $600,000 in Covid related expenses to simply host the festival. With an economic impact of over $28 million, the investment is worth it. But not just financially. The impact of the agriculture programs for youth that are displayed and even sold at the festival gives young students the opportunity to develop a love for an industry and a passion to launch their own careers.
Both family and tradition fuel the heart of Tampa Bay economics literally and figurately. But as the LT class learned, over 40% of all the fuel for the state of Florida goes through the Tampa ports emphasizing that the over 3000 shipyard workers literally fuel our city and state. From the dry docks to shipping containers and eventually the regrowth of the cruise lines and the tourism business, Florida’s largest and most cargo diverse port continues to grow and support the ever-changing Tampa Bay economy.
As the day wrapped around the Tampa Bay setting sun on the Yacht Star Ship, the themes of the day; family, tradition and the waterfront were even more prevalent because the class of LT ’21 will set out to share their new knowledge of these industries and work together to create effective change in the Tampa Bay community and start new traditions that continue to bring people together.