Investing in the Future

Clay County Extension Director Bradley Burbaugh and Farm Bureau board member Kelly Mosley on Thursday, July 20th, 2017.
Clay County Extension Director Bradley Burbaugh and Farm Bureau board member Kelly Mosley on Thursday, July 20th, 2017.

As a next-generation Florida agriculture leader, Clay County Farm Bureau board member Kelly Mosley sees vast opportunity in food production careers, and she wants to help the generation behind her see it, too.

It’s partly personal. Her 8-year-old daughter Maggie Grace Mosley is the sixth generation to live on the family farm in Green Cove Springs. Kelly doesn’t want Maggie to be the end of the line.

Kelly knows that farms big and small depend on the support of the Farm Bureau to be the voice of those who make their living off food production. She knows they also depend on the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences coming up with solutions to farmers’ challenges.

So when Brad Burbaugh arrived as UF/IFAS Clay County Extension director two years ago and immediately started attending Farm Bureau meetings, she saw the potential to strengthen the already close relationship between the two organizations.

Brad and Kelly talked about how to build stronger relationships between 4-H, FFA and the Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers program. About how they could take promising 4-Hers and FFA members and prime them to become the next crop of Young Farmers and Ranchers, the Farm Bureau’s talent pipeline for the 18-to-35 set.

They turned their vision into a plan. Then, with the financial backing of the Clay County Farm Bureau and UF/IFAS, they turned their plan into Clay County Emerging Agricultural Leaders.

They took 12 students and gave them monthly deep dives into the agriculture industry and leadership development. It included team-building exercises and visits to farms big and small, conventional and organic, crop and livestock. The goal was to give them a wide-ranging education on an industry to prepare them to advocate for it and educate others about it. One farm they visited was Barnes Farms in Hastings, where they met Putnam/St. John’s County Farm Bureau board member Virginia “Gin” Barnes.

Two students couldn’t get enough of Miss Gin’s cabbage operation. So they went back on their own to meet with the fifth-generation farmer. What they learned turn into an award-winning FFA horticulture demonstration.

Now Ashlee Hughes is on her way to community college with plans to transfer to UF to study agriculture. Caitlynne Youmans is the new FFA president at Middleburg High School.

And that hope that the high school group would be a feeder to Young Farmers and Ranchers? A third graduate, Emily Mauch, organized a recent recruitment reception for the Clay County chapter.

Emily hadn’t been familiar with YF&R before joining Emerging Leaders. Now she’s planning YF&R events and asking peers to attend and join the committee.

Some day, she said, she may be asking them all for their votes. She aspires to serve Clay as a county commissioner or state senator some day. The Emerging Leaders trip to the Florida Capitol as part of Farm Bureau Legislative Days had given her a taste of Tallahassee.

Kelly says she’s never really stopped being a CALS ambassador – select UF students who raise awareness of ag academics and careers. She sees her partnership with Brad as an extension of that. As for Brad, he’s a mainstay at Farm Bureau events. He sees the Farm Bureau as one of his most important stakeholders, united with him in the goal of helping agriculture to survive and thrive in the Jacksonville suburbs.

The two of them know that a crop of effective leaders is just as important to the future of Florida’s other 300 crops and commodities as water and sunshine are.

Today’s leaders like Kelly and Brad are investing their time, talent, and energy in Clay County agriculture’s future by finding tomorrow’s leaders. It’s another example of how IFAS and the Farm Bureau partner for the future of Florida agriculture, for Ashlee, for Caitlynne, for Emily, and, of course, for Maggie.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.