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February 12, 2009

Valentines Day is upon us. A time of expressing enthusiastic obsession for that which we hold dear to our hearts. I always fall victim to passion this time of year.

Okay, I admit it’s not your run-of –the-mill passion. It’s a passion for Florida agriculture.  As I attended the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame ceremony with my father on Tuesday evening at the Florida State Fair, I realized  I am not alone in this notion. While it is acceptable to be passionate about music or sports, to be passionate about something as ordinary as agriculture seems odd.

Being in a room of 850 people who share this affliction made everything seem normal this evening.  The common bond of pride in this industry is something you can’t buy, sell or duplicate; You either have the passion or you don’t.

This night was in honor of five gentlemen and their accomplishments in Florida agriculture.  Dr. James Griffiths, Richard “Coach” Kelly, Kay Richardson and Mason Smoak took their places among those who were honored before them.  My father was connected in some way professionally or socially to each of them over the years.

Every few years we attend this event together.   Some of my earliest memories are of the State Fair when my father would take my two older brothers and me for a day. We would pile into the truck and go to the fair where he conducted contests for the Future Farmers of America and let a four year-old boy and his brothers experience the sights and sounds of the fair.

So, once again here we are in Tampa, nearly forty years later recalling the scenes and sounds of the fair as it played out in our minds.

Oh, and that fifth gentleman to be honored was my father. He didn’t have a seat at the honoree’s table. He didn’t receive a plaque. No one congratulated him for his accomplishment. The only one who honored him was me, and silently at that. No, he taught agriculture and worked for the Departments of Agriculture and Education for over thirty-five years to make certain agriculture had a place in Florida’s future. And through the years, he somehow managed to instill this goofy passion for agriculture into his youngest son. A passion that comes naturally for a father, his son and 850 of our friends at the State Fair.

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