By Carly Barnes
The extensiveness of Florida’s agriculture industry never ceases to amaze me. As a state officer for the Florida FFA Association, it is necessary for me to have a comprehensive understanding of Florida agriculture in order to be an advocate for the industry. However, with each new experience during my role as the Area I State Vice President for Florida FFA, I’m quickly discovering how much agriculture crosses industry barriers and into our daily lives.
During the week of October 6-10, 2008, my state officer team was given the awesome opportunity to intern at and tour the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services located in Tallahassee, FL, the largest department within our state, and the largest department of agriculture in the nation. The vastness of the department is no surprise, as agriculture is the second largest industry in our state, falling very closely behind the tourism industry. The Florida agriculture industry produces over 270 commodities on over 42,000 commercial farms, making Florida one of the most agriculturally diverse states in our great nation.
The internship allowed my team to gain first hand experience in several divisions of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). We visited the Division of Food Safety and inspected a local Wal-Mart, observed chemists test octane levels in gasoline, and inspected a gas station on the first day of the internship.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is unique in that the Department regulates agriculture, as well as deals with all consumer protection issues around the state. This is why petroleum inspection falls under the regulation of the Department, along with the state-wide consumer complaint call center.
During the internship, my team also toured the Florida State Capitol, as well as met with the staff directors for the Florida Senate and House of Representatives Agriculture Committees. By meeting with these staff directors, we were able to understand more about agricultural policy, and how agricultural laws are drafted and passed. During our time at the capitol we met with Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson, as he spoke with us about Florida’s initiative to produce alternative fuels.
Florida is very well known for its beaches, but many people never realize that our state has a booming aquaculture industry. Right down the road in Apalachicola is the heart of Florida’s oyster industry. Our internship took us to "Apalach", where we visited an oyster processing facility and met with Division of Aquaculture environmental specialists who tested the bay waters for contamination. These specialists have the authority to cease the harvesting of oysters in the bay, therefore controlling the livelihood of oyster farmers.
Have you ever seen the "Fresh from Florida" logo in a grocery store or on produce or seafood? If so, you have witnessed the product of the FDACS Division of Marketing. While visiting this Division, my team discovered how much marketing plays into the global agriculture market. Our Florida food products are marketed and sold all around the globe, and without this Division, our agricultural sales around the state would definitely go down. Next time you’re purchasing fresh food products, look for our logo and support locally grown Florida foods.
After our tour in Tallahassee, we traveled over to the Agricultural Inspection Station on I-10 in Live Oak, Florida. We witnessed how members of Agricultural Law Enforcement used canines to inspect for food cross contamination and for non-native species illegally transported into Florida. The ag inspection stations are another example of how the Florida Department of Agriculture works to protect its consumers.
The final stop of internship was at the Suwannee River Water Management District in Live Oak. It was there that we were reminded that agriculturalists are environmentalists and stewards of the land that they depend on. We were able to see the proactive steps that farmers in the area were taking to better manage their farms and the water used on them. We also heard from the Master Gardener Program in Live Oak that works to educate others about how plants can protect the environment and conserve water around our homes.
The week-long internship at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services widened my view of our agriculture industry and how important it is to the citizens of our state. This department regulates every member of the agricultural community, from gas station owners to local farmers to business owners, in order to protect you, the consumer. To learn more about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit http://www.doacs.state.fl.us.