CLEWISTON – “If it wasn’t for 4-H and FFA, I wouldn’t be in the position of being commissioner of agriculture,” Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam told those gathered for the annual Clewiston Chamber of Commerce dinner on Dec. 5 at John Boy Auditorium in Clewiston. He said those youth programs gave him an opportunity to learn about the agriculture business and encouraged him to pursue it as a career.
“We live in a state where most of the people are from someplace else,” he said, noting that he is a fifth-generation Floridian.
He said the rural communities of Florida’s interior make Florida strong.
Mr. Putnam said the recent experience of Hurricane Irma demonstrated what makes the small communities strong.
“As Floridians, we have this shared experience, and this was a bad storm. But when it’s over, the communities come together. You know an awful lot about your community when as soon as you check on your own home, you go and check on your neighbor. He said neighbors helped each other with food and cleanup and shared food and other resources. Community members took care of each other.
“That’s what I chose to remember about that hurricane, the strength of these communities,” he said. “If we are going to be the kind of state we want to be, we are going to need these type of communities.
“We live in a state people dream about visiting,” he continued. He said he wants Florida to be more than a dream vacation or the reward at the end of a career.
“I want us to be a state that attracts people to keep the young people here,” he explained.
To change the state, Mr. Putnam said, we need to build the work force by putting career and vocational education back into the middle schools and the high schools.
He said by providing training for skilled labor, Florida can rebuild the middle class.
“We need to have career and technical education for all of our students,” the commissioner continued. “Stop pushing kids into student loans for a college degree they don’t want, a degree they may never be able to use.
“We need to stop treating state colleges like the redheaded stepchild,” he said, noting that state colleges provide training for nurses and other health professionals, and that nurses, physical therapists and other health professionals are always in demand.
“We are losing economic development opportunities due to the work force,” he said, adding that the state has a shortage of skilled truck drivers and heavy equipment operators.
Florida must also stop treating the rural communities “like they are disposable,” he said.
The state and much of the nation relies on Florida agriculture for food.
Agriculture is changing, he said. “But there is no tougher bunch of people on Earth than farmers and ranchers.”