MANATEE -- Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam solidified his reputation as a supporter of the small farmer Tuesday in Manatee County.
The state’s top agriculture official told the Manatee Chamber of Commerce that a growing movement for communities to “buy local” produce helps the economy by adding value to local farmers’ fruits and vegetables.
“From a business standpoint, it makes a lot of sense,” Putnam told the luncheon crowd.
Putnam’s stance was a pleasant surprise for Ellen Teeter, the advocate of eating locally grown produce who raised the topic during Putnam’s visit at the Holiday Inn Sarasota Bradenton Airport.
“He’s very well-informed,” Teeter said. She is a key local leader of the “slow food” movement, which advocates purchasing produce that is grown locally in a sustainable way without pesticides or other harmful chemicals. “I kind of thought he would focus on big agriculture, which he did. But I thought he was very well-informed about the small farmer, too. I’m impressed.”
Putnam has highlighted the importance of the small local farmer since his election. During his visit to Manatee on Tuesday, he also toured Geraldson’s Community Farm in northwest Bradenton. As Putnam’s staff noted in a press release, Geraldson’s is a resource conservation and development project, partnering with the local community to create a locally based food system.
Putnam stressed that Florida must remain a welcoming place for people from other countries, especially those from South and Latin America. Florida’s $100 billion annual agriculture industry, second only to tourism in its contribution to the state’s economy, needs immigrant workers even with double-digit unemployment, he said.
“Whether it’s agriculture, hospitality or the tourist industry, you can’t find labor at 3 percent unemployment and you can’t find labor at 10 percent unemployment,” Putnam said.
The state needs a tightly controlled “guest worker” program, Putnam said, and should also improve its efforts to convince college graduates from other countries to start their businesses here rather than in their countries of origin.
“It’s important to keep that human capital and that talent pool here in the United States,” he said.
Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.