Since the 1980’s, the Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida, TFGSF, have exemplified what can happen when a group of people share common goals, are determined, and work hard. TFGSF members have volunteered their time and money over the years to help Florida’s tropical fruit industry reach for the prominence in the marketplace that the growers have long felt it deserves through means of education, acquisition of funds, and lots of legwork.
The TFGSF idea began in late 1987 when Fruit & Spice Park director, Chris Rollins, urged a group of local tropical fruit growers to form an organization to support the “minor” crop industry (not the major acreage of avocado, lime and mango). The groups’ goals were to educate themselves to become better growers, and to promote research and marketing of Florida tropical fruit. In 1988, this group incorporated and became known as the Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida, Inc.
The group immediately began to make a name for themselves by attempting to form an advisory group to represent the industry at the state level. TFGSF member and Homestead attorney Brent Probinsky volunteered many hours working toward this goal, and he ultimately he led a small group that created the Tropical Fruit Policy Act which was passed by the Florida State Legislature in 1990. This act called for the formation of the Tropical Fruit Advisory Committee, which advises Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture on issues affecting the tropical fruit industry of Florida, and is made up of individuals from the Florida tropical fruit industry (i.e., growers, packers, shippers).
At the same time, other board members were at work advising the County on policies regarding local farming issues. This group eventually evolved into the Miami-Dade County Agricultural Practices Board that continues today helping the County to understand the unique issues that confront all farmers in Miami-Dade County, and provides recommendations to the County on those issues that affect Miami-Dade agriculture.
While these efforts were underway, TFGSF continued on with it’s mission to help its’ members become better at growing their crops through research. In the early 1990’s the carambola growers within TFGSF formed a research committee that established a 1¢/pound assessment for packed carambola. With the $270,000 they raised, six research projects on carambola were funded through the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center, TREC. The results of these projects, as well as all other projects since then, have been presented to the industry at commodity meetings throughout the years. Educational brochures and tropical fruit cookbooks were also created and distributed.
In 1992, Florida’s tropical fruit industry was severely set back with the damage caused by Hurricane Andrew. Trees were broken, toppled, and in some areas, completely pulled out of the ground by the 200+ mph winds. It was a very difficult time for all citizens of South Miami-Dade County. TFGSF members aimed their efforts at securing funding from the state to help the tropical fruit industry get back on its feet. Members traveled to Tallahassee, made phone calls, wrote letters, met with local legislators, and eventually, were successful in obtaining special funding appropriations through the State Legislature and Governor’s Office. For four of the next five years the tropical fruit industry received a total of $1.1 million for research and promotion of tropical fruit. The research money generated 72 scientific projects through TREC, United States Department of Agriculture, and Fairchild Tropical Gardens, and addressed topics on pests, diseases, post harvest studies, plant nutrition, various cultural practices, etc. The marketing funds produced two videos, additional cookbooks, posters, and educational brochures, and an award winning website all created through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services graphics and marketing departments.
TFGSF today continues to be active in local farming issues, promoting Florida’s tropical fruit at various trade events, and through our website and newsletter, seeking sources of funding for research and education, and keeping a place for Florida’s tropical fruit in this dynamic, market.
The global marketplace demands that the tropical fruit industry become more creative and thoughtful in their marketing practices, at the same time exposing our industry to ever changing threats from imported diseases and pests. The Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida will continue to search for ways to help the growers meet and overcome these challenges so that consumers can be introduced to, and continue to enjoy the exotic flavors of Florida’s tropical fruits.
Taste the Florida’s Tropics – Cable – Tap shows 1 – 12