Florida Strawberry Growers Association Making a Difference With College Scholarship Awards

Gayle Kurtzer-Meyers

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Strawberry Stevie on tractor/Photo Source Sue Harrell

Who doesn't love strawberries? Florida grows fresh strawberries from Thanksgiving through Easter. The fruits are one of the tastiest nature has to offer, and they come loaded with health benefits for the body. However, have you ever wondered where your strawberries are grown?

If you happen to be eating fresh strawberries in the winter months, there's a high chance that your strawberries are coming from members of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. Additionally, this association is not just responsible for providing you with everything you want to know about Florida strawberries. Still, it has also been an active participant in many community projects, making a positive difference since 1982.

History of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association

Although the Florida Strawberry Growers Association became official in 1982, the history of the Florida strawberry industry goes back more than a hundred years ago when Henry Plant laid down the railroad to Tampa.

This railroad allowed local farmers to promote their winter fruits and other harvests to the east coast. One harvest that was especially important in the city was strawberries. Plant City produced some of the juiciest and tastiest strawberries, which rewarded the town with the 'Winter Strawberry Capital of the Nation and brought together the entire community and group of farmers.

In 1980, some strawberry farmers started holding meetings at home to organize a group representing the best interests of the entire state's strawberry growers and strawberry industry.

Eventually, on February 11, 1982, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association (FSGA) was officially founded for this purpose. However, over time, the group has taken on different goals to make a difference and give back to the community.

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Strawberry flat judging /Photo Source Sue Harrell

Impact on community

With around 11,000 acres of strawberry fields, Florida is the second-largest strawberry-producing region in the U.S. and dominates producing the tastiest strawberries during the winter season. However, the FSGA's impact on the community goes well beyond its fresh produce. It conducts several programs and is involved in many community services to help give back to the community.

Jammer saves the farm.

The FSGA has its very own mascot, Jammer, who helps educate the people about strawberry farming. From the day the strawberries are planted to the moment you hold them in your arms, the fruits have to go through a long journey.

Moreover, children must learn about this journey, especially if they plan to join the industry. That is precisely why Jammer is here. Jammer is talking and singing strawberry mascot, always ready to explain the fun of the strawberry growing process. That is why he also created the short educational film Jammer Saves the Farm, a 12-minute short film that takes kids and adults alike into the world of strawberry farming.

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Jammer the mascot of FSGAPhoto Source Sue Harrell

It explains the unique and often complex process of growing strawberries, especially in winters in Florida. In the educational film, Jammer and his friends explain the various aspects of strawberry farming, from irrigation to pollination to the nutritional benefits of the fruit as well.

The Jammer is on billboards around Florida, and the FSGA features the cheery mascot on their coloring books, strawberry boxes, and more. You can even have Jammer come to your school for an informative session on strawberry farming.

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Matt Parke Parkesdale Farms blue ribbon winner. /Photo Source Sue Harrell

Scholarships

Since its inception, the FSGA has also been heavily involved in providing scholarships to dozens and dozens of students to help them pursue their degrees. FSGA created the scholarships to encourage young men and women to pursue their education beyond high school. If you know someone that would like to apply for a scholarship, now is the time to do so.

The FSGA has awarded more than 350 scholarships and given out more than $400,000 in the community through the program. The scholarship is available every Fall for seniors in high school and students enrolled in college.

"The Florida Strawberry Growers Association is proud to have given out scholarships totaling over $400,000.00 over the past 39 years. FSGA members believe in investing back into the community and future leaders. Every fall scholarships are available to high school seniors, and students who are enrolled in college.Our scholarship program has had its challenges due to Covid as you would expect. Our Ambassador Scholarship Program was intended for 4 to 6 high school seniors each year. Participating in FSGA events as an industry ambassador throughout the season attending special events and touring the state as a representative of our organization. They had opportunities to network with industry partners and members to continue their future in Florida Agriculture. This year we have decided to discontinue our Ambassador program but will continue to support young men and women through the original scholarship program." - Sue Harrell, Director of Marketing Florida Strawberry Growers Association

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Stevie following in the family tradition strawberry with her grandpa Mark Harrell./Photo Source Sue Harrell

Children are the future

There's was an FSGA Ambassador Scholarship program that awarded scholarships to four to six high school students. Additionally, these students got the chance to participate in special FSGA events as industry ambassadors. They could attend special events and even tour around the state as a representative of the association.

As a result, these students learned more about the trade and built a network within the industry, proving helpful later on in their careers. Unfortunately, the FSGA had to discontinue the Ambassador Scholarship Program for the 2021-2022 session due to COVID-19 and the prevailing uncertainty.

However, they continue to help the youth in the community through their original scholarship program. The scholarships vary from year to year.

The scholarships for deserving students are usually worth between $1,000 and $1,500.Additionally, the FSGA holds a distinction dinner every fall to congratulate all the students who received the scholarship. The students are presented with a check, a beautiful plaque, and the families get to enjoy an awards ceremony as well as a celebration dinner.

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Scholarship recipients on a shipping facility tour. /Photo Source Sue Harrell

Previously, the annual Florida Strawberry Festival Best Flat Contest would fund the scholarships. The strawberry farmers would pick their best flat of strawberries and participate in the Best Flat Contest.

The judges would evaluate the flats based on the strawberries' color, size, shape, taste, and uniformity and award ribbons to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd position holders. Then, they would auction off the strawberries at the plant sale, steer sale, and swine sale.

The money raised in this auction would fund the scholarship program. While competitions were exciting, they are no longer required; as of 2020, the scholarship fund is fully funded.

Wrapping up

Even if we've never given much thought to the strawberries, we enjoy every season, and there is no doubt that the Florida Strawberry Growers Association is doing marvelous work in the fields.

They are helping farmers deliver fresh strawberries all winter long all over the country and play a vital role within the community by investing back in the youth. If you want to learn more about the FSGA or support their scholarship programs, you can get in touch with them at 813-752-6822.

A special thank you to Sue Harrell, Director of Marketing, Florida Strawberry Growers Association, for her knowledge, input, photographs, and assistance with this article.

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I am a Licensed Community Association Manager for the State of Florida and a published author. My top articles are about Florida RE, property management, and the many beautiful venues and activities available in the Sunshine State. Thank you for reading my work and joining me on the journey.

Kissimmee, FL
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