The Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce’s Ag Committee has revamped and is taking on the new challenge of building a bridge between the organization and the local agriculture community.
For years, the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce’s Ag Committee has held one purpose: select the winners of the annual Chamber’s Salute to Agriculture awards. Over the past six months, that has all begun to change.
It started in August at a Chamber luncheon. Committee members sat down and began to discuss what it was they were hoping to genuinely accomplish with their group. Their dreams were big and they realized it was high time they did something more to help the industry they all cared so passionately about.
“The Chamber of Commerce was at one time seen as a networking organization,” Wesley Joyner, co-chair of the committee, said. “You signed up, you went to the breakfasts, you advertised and that was it. With farmers, advertising is not something they need to really rely on. So much of what they do is wholesale anyway. I think now what we want to do is show that it goes a lot deeper than just networking and getting your name out, we can advocate for anything they need. We are here to act as that bridge.”
After refocusing their vision, committee members met with Chamber President Christine Miller asking how they could make the committee better and put it in the position to do the most good for the community. She recommended it become a subcommittee of the Chamber’s Government Advisory Committee.
The GAC is constantly taking Plant City’s needs and interests to lawmakers in Tallahassee, fighting to ensure the city and its business owners have political representation. Miller was there this week meeting with lawmakers and discussing Plant City’s interests. But the Chamber can’t advocate for needs it isn’t aware of.
Agriculture has long been the roots of Plant City and Joyner said the committee is now focused on meshing that community with the Chamber so it can step up and act as its champions not only around town, but also in Tallahassee.
The first step in that process comes in the form of an ag tour, which kicks off on Feb. 22. The Chamber is taking 30 attendees to the State Farmers Market in Plant City, Hinton Farms in Dover, the Gulf Coast Research Center, Audubon Ranch and the Oak Ridge Fish Hatchery in Plant City.
“We wanted to just show the different segments of agriculture that are found right here,” Joyner said. “Look at the fish hatchery, they are a major supplier of tropical fish and it’s something that is making an impact here in Plant City. I guarantee a lot of people don’t even realize it’s here. This is just the beginning. We want to expand to other places and add more variety to our tours.”
Joyner believes the group will probably offer a spring and fall tour each year showing the community what is in their backyard and showing the local agriculturists they have support and representation in the Chamber.
The tours are open for all Chamber members and tickets were $20. It didn’t take long for the inaugural tour to sell out and Joyner said he assumes that will happen each time they offer the unique service. All future tours will be announced via the Chamber’s website, social media and announcements at other Chamber events.
Anyone interested in learning more about the vision of the committee or the growing partnership is welcome to give the Chamber a ring at 813-754-3707.
“We’re just starting, we’ve got work to do, we really want to see what’s the best way to bring those two together and I think those tours are really a big step in the right direction,” Joyner said. “The interest is there. We capped at 30 and it’s full. We have a lot of new people in Plant City. They understand that the Strawberry Festival is here, but I don’t think they understand everything else. We really want to be a liaison for both, an educational outreach. Plant City is growing, but we want to make sure that our basis, agriculture is represented.”
Chamber ag committee members
Wesley Joyner, Pilot Bank, Co-chair
Gayle Yanes, Farm Credit, Co-chair
Dan Walden, Poppell Insurance/Florida Strawberry Festival
Pam Walden, Hills. County Schools, Retired
Jim Jeffries, Florida Strawberry Festival/Hills. County Schools, Retired
Lauren Walden, Supervisor, Career, Technical and Adult Education Hills. County Schools
Mike Lopez, Westcoast Enterprises/Southside Farm Supply
Stephanie Conrad, Weeping Creek Ranch
Jake Raburn, Hinton Farms
Stephen Gran, UF/IFAS Hillsborough County Extension Director
Judi Whitson, Hills. County Farm Bureau
Jim Scott, Jarrett Scott Ford