EAST MANATEE -- Horticultural professional Ralph Garrison of Suncoast Nursery planted enough seeds in education that Florida's Future Farmers of America is honoring him with the 2013 Honorary State Degree.
"Ralph has been doing a lot of things for many years, being involved with the Farm Bureau, being a driving force with students," said Braden River High School agriculture teacher Deb Barry, who nominated Garrison for his involvement in agricultural education in Manatee County.
"Many people have felt the positive effects of what he's done," said Barry, who also taught at Palmetto High. "I've had many experiences with him. He's always there for the kids. He's always there saying positive things about FFA and agriculture. He's been good about attending Agriculture on the Hill, taking
students to Tallahassee to meet representatives and legislators."
The recognition is the highest honorary award presented by the Florida FFA. It recognizes individuals who contribute to the advancement of agricultural education and provide outstanding service to the FFA program.
"There's some things that FFA teaches young kids that they just don't get in the classroom any more," said Garrison, whose nursery covers 18.5 acres just off Morgan Johnson Road.
"It's a lot more than just cows and ranching and cowboys. I'm glad the school board continues to fund FFA.
"We've had three or four students out here as interns," the agri-businessman said. "They hop right in and work with the crew."
A member of the Manatee County Farm Bureau board, Garrison served as president for 12 years.
"That's when I became acquainted with FFA and its programs," he said. "I've seen how it's changed young people; it gets them to think ahead of time. And there's a huge market for young people now. With the new technology and computer savvy, there's opportunity all over the country and in Florida."
A native of Bradenton and graduate of Manatee High School, Garrison earned his bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Georgia while his wife, Sandy, has her bachelor's in agriculture.
Now, he said, she runs the business part of the nursery and he works with the plants.
They bought the land and moved to the property in 1978.
"Nursery work is a part of farming, except we're just growing ornamentals," said Garrison, whose uncle J.C. Garrison helped nurture his interest in gardening. Their two sons are grown, one working in Georgia as a golf course superintendent and the other graduating next week from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lakewood Ranch.
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.