provided to Santiva Chronicle
Nikki Fried, Florida’s 12th Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, told Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce members that Florida farmers are making strides to become more conservation-friendly and have many of the same goals as the state’s environmentalists. She spoke on July 16 at the chamber’s Virtual Power Hour, sponsored by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF).
“I don’t come from agriculture,” said the Miami native. “So I spend a lot of time listening and learning and hearing from [the farmers’] perspective. At the end of day, if they don’t have the quality of the land, they can’t be successful either…. The passion they have for their land is the same passion I see in the environmentalists. Keep the communication lines open. They need their land to be there for generations, and we want their land to be there for generations.”
Fried outlined the wide oversee of her agency, but concentrated on new legislation, new technology and crops to make farms more environmentally sound, clean energy, and clean water.
She underlined the importance of farming to Florida, where COVID-19’s impact on tourism has moved agriculture from the number two state economic driver to number one. She foresees one good that will come from the pandemic is more awareness for supporting local farmers.
“I’m very excited about having hemp growing in the state,” she said, referring to the result of one new piece of legislation regarding CBD regulations during this year’s session. “It gives so many of our farmers another opportunity for another commodity to grow. It uses less water, it needs less nutrients, in fact it cleans the waterways… another opportunity to do great things for the environment.”
The commissioner talked about traveling to Israel with one her innovations committees to research new agricultural technology that Florida farmers can put to use to stem the flow of nutrients into waterways. “Farmers want to be stewards of the land,” she said. “Now I have the goal of creating that the state of Florida is going to be the Silicon Valley of the East Coast for agriculture.”
Fried voiced concerns on the environmental impact of a planned 340-mile expressway through Florida, fearing it will place unnecessary strain during the economic challenges of COVID besides ruining millions of dollars of agricultural and conservation lands.
“It will destroy the fiber of what makes Florida Florida,” she said, listing wildlife, small farms, and drinking water as victims. “It will threaten the unique character of so much of our rural land. I agree with economic development, but it should not come at the price of our rich cultural heritage.”
In response to a question from meeting moderator and SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera about bridging the gap between environmentalists and farmers, she urged conversation to end “a battle that has gone on for so long.”
“If we don’t conserve that [farm] land, where does that land go? To developers, and that doesn’t help us either,” said Fried, who, before being elected to her commissioner post, worked as an attorney in the Alachua County Public Defender’s Office, in private practice in South Florida, and as a government consultant for law firms.
Founded in 1967, SCCF is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed.
“Thanks to Ryan and his team for bringing Commissioner Fried’s voice and expertise to our membership with some extremely relevant information,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer.
The chamber has hosted a series of Zoom meetings since pandemic guidelines began restricting in-person gatherings. Sept. 17 marks the next chamber virtual meeting, featuring guest speaker Dana Young, CEO of Visit Florida.