By: Amy Bennett Williams, Fort Myers News-Press
Agriculture is one of Florida’s major economic pillars, but for the millions who stick close to the beach, it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind powerhouse.
The Hendry County Extension Office and the Hendry County City Farm Tour Council are working to change that with their 38th annual Hendry County Farm Tours Feb. 2 and March 9.
The multi-stop, $90 day trips highlight some of Florida’s most sophisticated cattle, citrus, sugarcane and vegetable operations.
Modern tour buses will take visitors from site to site, which include U.S. Sugar’s mill, Hilliard Brothers ranch and Duda farms. There will also be fresh Florida orange juice breaks at strategic stops along the way, including a 16-ounce ribeye lunch at the Hendry County Fairgrounds in LaBelle, which Hendry County Extension Service Director Gene McAvoy promises will be melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
Agritourism is a natural for Florida, since the industry plows $240 billion into the economy each year.
Hendry County is one of the largest agricultural counties in the state and is its largest producer of oranges, with over 75,000 acres of groves. In addition, Hendry is the second largest producer of sugarcane, third largest in vegetable production and fifth largest in beef cattle.
Profits from the tour go to local 4-H Club programs and scholarships for kids planning agriculture majors in college. But the aim goes beyond that, McAvoy says. He wants to foster greater understanding and respect for the state’s agricultural families. As he told a busload on a past tour "Without agriculture you'd be hungry and you'd be naked."
Agriculture is second only to tourism as an economic engine, he notes, adding that it's one of the oldest sustainable industries: "We take light, water and soil, and make reusable products," he says…