BAKER — About 30 county, state and federal government officials got up close and personal with Northwest Florida agriculture during Thursday’s Farm Bureau Legislative Tour, and learned peanuts ain’t just worth, well, peanuts.
For area farming families, goobers are a major source of area income.
“We like to give the legislators and their staff a chance to see what is going on in the agriculture world around them and, if the farmers are facing issues, to see what the issues are,” Molly Huffman, Crestview Farm Bureau Federation secretary said.
Legislative aides from the offices of state Reps. Greg Evers, Doug Broxson and Mike Hill, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller joined Okaloosa County administrator John Hofstad, University of Florida/IFAS Extension Director Larry Williams, and other area officials for the daylong tour.
“If they are voting on laws that affect agriculture and farming, they will have a better understanding of what the farmers’ actual needs are,” Huffman said.
SCIENCE AT WORK
Stops included the UF/IFAS Jay Research Facility, where participants learned how science continues to improve agricultural practices.
They then got to see that science at work at Marshall Farms in Baker, where farmer James Marshall succinctly explained one of farmers’ biggest challenges.
“We’re permitted to death,” he said.
As an example, Marshall said it took more than a year to receive a permit to drill a simple well for irrigating one of his fields, that once permitted, was dug and operational in three weeks.
Participants got to sample some of Marshall’s freshly harvested produce as they nibbled boiled peanuts, then observed the harvesting process in a nearby field.
The tour’s final stop was Peaden Brothers Distillery in the Fox Theater on Crestview’s Main Street.
As the participants sipped small samples of the distillery’s seven varieties of beverages – served, ironically, in church communion cups – co-owner Tyler Peaden explained the company’s efforts to make Crestview a destination rather than a gas stop en route to south county beaches.
“That’s like a thumb in the eye,” Peaden said. “We wanted to give people a reason to come to Crestview.”
Peaden said his whiskey, bourbon and moonshine are distilled from grains grown in Florida, including corn, barley and some rye.
“We want to make sure everything in our bottles comes from Florida,” Peaden said.
Miller’s district director, Sheila Bowman, said the tour proved valuable by highlighting the variety and importance of Northwest Florida’s agricultural industries. The aides’ experience will help the legislators as they formulate policy, she said.
“You really don’t know something until you see it, touch it, feel it,” and, as the aroma of fermenting grains wafted through the Fox Theatre lobby, “sniff it,” Bowman said.