Friday, February 01, 2008
Flagler farmers still find a growing need
By HEATHER SCOFIELD
BUNNELL — Charles Cowart had tears in his eyes as he explained to more than 60 visitors on his western Flagler farm that he was one of a dying breed.
“The Florida cowboy is a thing of the past,” Cowart told the visitors who were brought by school bus Thursday.
Cowart, who calls his young calves “coupons” until they’re old enough to be sold, thinks of himself as one of the few remaining “Florida Crackers.” As Cowart spoke, an energy-filled dog rounded up a small herd of cattle behind him while his nephew, Deen Wall, gave a few cracks of a whip from his seat atop a calm horse to demonstrate the origin of the “cracker” label.
“I’ve used a whip all my life but never did master it,” Cowart admitted, adding that his son and nephew were much better at it than he.
Cowart got his start in the family business of farming when he was just a young boy, supervising cross-country cattle deliveries at the tender age of 6, he said.
Back then, Cowart said cattle were moved long distances on the nation’s railway system in large boxcars. Much different than the semi-trucks of today that haul the animals to their destinations. It’s just one of the many changes that have marked the Flagler County agricultural industry over the years, he said.
The turnout for the six-hour tour of western Flagler County was the largest the county has ever seen at an event like this, said the county’s special projects coordinator Melissa Sheets. In addition to the many state and local officials who attended the tour, about a dozen middle and high school students rode along, providing information they’d gained while participating in local 4H Clubs and Future Farmers of America.
Tour guests learned Flagler County is home to about 12,000 acres of cropland that feeds not only locals, but people all over the country. In addition to providing 35 percent of the country’s cabbage, Flagler County farms also yield a high quantity of potatoes for general use and potato chips. And the vast green landscape created by local sod farms in western Flagler produces enough oxygen to support more than 160,000 people each day.
“Agriculture is a vital part of our community,” said 11th grade student and 13th generation Flagler farmer Jacob Boyd.
There are nearly 100 different agricultural enterprises in Flagler County, some of which include forestry, bees, poultry, goats, horses, sod, cabbage and potatoes, Boyd said. And according to the 2002 Census of Agriculture, Flagler farms have about a $120 million economic impact.
Though the families and companies manning the industry have turned to science and the most sensible business practices they can to maintain profit margins, there are fewer youngsters looking to spend their lives working the land. And inflated land values are tempting long-time farm families to sell their holdings.
That’s why 18-year-old Katie Cox said it’s so important to her that she do her part in sharing what she’s learned about the importance of agriculture. Cox worries the situation will only worsen if the youth of today don’t have a good perspective on the necessity of agricultural preservation and the advancements in agricultural technology. Both will be needed to supply the world’s growing population with the food, water and air it needs to survive.
“Everyone should be aware of where their food comes from,” Cox said.
That’s why teachers like R.D. Davis, Buddy Taylor Elementary, said they are working to steer kids like Boyd and Cox into fields like chemistry and biology. So they can develop the tools that will allow more food to be produced on less land with fewer negative ecological impacts.