Agribusiness

As the population of the region continues to expand, so do the occupations that support this growth.

The following Support Industries continue to produce a wealth of career opportunities in Northeast Florida: Construction, Real Estate, Public Safety, Education, Agribusiness, and Hospitality & Leisure.

Resources

Agribusiness Report 2020

Schools Offering Agriculture Courses/Programs

You have to be weather tolerant and comfortable being outside.

Lindsay MeyerCongaree & Penn, Owner & Creative Director

Florida is unique in that many producers will help each other out.

Clayton BraumanPutnam County Schools/FFA member

Agriculture is everywhere. It’s the backbone of this country.

Kelly OehlerUniversity of Florida Graduate, Intern

Lindsay Meyer

Congaree & Penn

“We just sort of fell into it,” says Lindsay Meyer, owner and Creative Director of Congaree and Penn. An agriculture and culinary operation since 2014, Congaree and Penn offers the Jacksonville community with a diverse number of activities that engage different age groups and keep this family-run enterprise thriving.

Lindsay and her husband Scott met in college at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Lindsay studied Marketing and Design. Scott, a Jacksonville native, pursued Environmental Science. They later lived in south Florida while Scott pursued a master’s degree in Aquaculture. Initially, he considered starting up a fish farm on his father’s property. He and Lindsay began building rice paddies and milling in their shed, literally “testing the waters” for the components needed in fish farming.

Scott’s father owned the farm, now Congaree and Penn, a 330-acre property which served as a tree farm. Rather than using the land for fish farming, they pivoted, choosing to grow rice to supply various restaurants as well as their own. The farm now houses a unique mix of muscadine, mayhaw, and olive orchards, tree nurseries, a southern farm-to-table inspired restaurant, and their goats, chickens, ducks, guinea fowl and horses. Tours, blackberry and muscadine picking, community events, a retail operation and landscaping service round out their business model and brand.

While growth has been steady in the last six years, future plans include building the brand to offer a variety of personal agri-tourism experiences to interact with the property, the animals, and the food. Plans for pressing the Arbequina Olives that are produced on the farm would also require expanded capacity. Lindsay indicates that the community has supported Congaree and Penn as they’ve grown and evolved, which mirrors the evolution of her own career.

Lindsay shares that farming was not her intended career pathway. Although she grew up on a farm in New Mexico that produced green chilis, pecans, and cotton, she originally pictured herself working in a large design firm. However, farm life suits her. She enjoys feeding her menagerie of pets, riding horses, and spending time on their beautiful property. She and her husband also live on the property, a lovely way to work from home.

However, it’s not all beautiful sunsets and rows of impeccable crops. Farm life is hard work and requires its owners to wear a variety of hats. Diversity of skills needed on the farm truly represent modern agriculture. For example, designing a brand, logo, and website, responding to all communications, event planning, and managing a restaurant staff all fall within Lindsay’s self-created job description. She gets her hands dirty during the day-to-day operation along with their 30 employees. “You have to be weather-tolerant and be comfortable being outside. Weather isn’t always easy,” Lindsay says.

An easy hospitality is part of the brand. Congaree and Penn has a boutique feel and offers an intimate experience, but its reach continues to expand due to hard work. For example, their small batch Pecan Oil won both a Good Food Award and a Garden & Gun Made in the South Runner-Up Award. Sustainable farming allows Lindsay and Scott to innovate, grow and change as the consumer market and community interests change. Having a diverse number of products, goods, and services also allows them to weather any economic changes.

With a name inspired by family history, it’s only natural that the farm’s philosophy is encapsulated in Lindsay’s statement, “We want everyone to feel special.”

Clayton Brauman

Putnam County Schools/FFA Member

The quote “Your roots determine your routes” is applicable to Clayton Brauman.

A senior at QI Roberts Junior-Senior High School, part of the Putnam County School District offering Cambridge Advanced Studies, Clayton Brauman is involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA). Students take advanced placement coursework and exams. Through the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Program, Clayton earns college credits to transfer upon enrollment at Oklahoma State University in the Fall of 2021. At the end of this school year, Clayton will qualify for several specific certificates, such as the Agriculture Associate Certification, Agriculture Systems Associate, and Animal Science Specialist.

Clayton’s career pathway is clear. He will earn his bachelor’s degree in Animal Science with a concentration in Business, studying different aspects of ag production and specializing in cow and calf operations. Once he completes college, Clayton intends to return to work his family farm and have a job in animal nutrition. After a recent sale of feeder calves, his family owns a cow operation involving six hundred head of commercial female cattle. The Brauman’s also own a feed store in Palatka--County Feed and General Store. This retail operation hosts a quarterly farm swap showcasing local producer of canned goods, pre-started plants, goats-milk soap, or baby chicks. Clayton is involved in the execution and promotion of these events.

Clayton’s experience in ag is specialized, but he sees the importance of diversification of products and services that farmers offer their communities. He and his sister own 25 head of registered Charolais, a creamy white breed which are known for their good growth rate, producing big calves, and significant average daily gain. They intend to produce bulls and breed them for local and statewide sales.

Clayton’s interest in agriculture began early due to his family’s farm and retail store. However, he quickly developed a skill set that allowed him to travel across the United States, cementing an appreciation for farming in Northeast Florida. Clayton was part of the state champion 4-H Livestock Judging Team from Putnam County. The team judged livestock in state and national contests. From sixth through eleventh grades, Clayton began traveling to competitions, also exposing him to farms and ranches across the country. He learned to spell every breed and formulate speeches to justify his judgements based on specific criteria. He learned the discipline required to complete classroom assignments on the road in a timely manner. No doubt this experience will propel him forward in his career pathway.

As a result of his travels, Clayton has concluded “Florida is unique in that many local producers will help each other out. People aren’t afraid to call their neighbors.” Clayton cited a recent example where local ranchers needed a shipping facility to sort and load their calves. Clayton’s family offered their pens to sort and load the calves onto semi-trailers. Not only did they provide the facilities, but they helped with the process of loading.

Clayton also wisely observes agribusiness trends. He mentioned more farmers sell their USDA approved meats directly to the consumer rather than selling their cattle to companies that process the animal and sell to the consumer. This relationship helps the producer recuperate costs while keeping costs affordable to the consumer. Selling directly to the customer also creates the awareness of showing people the source of their food, thereby linking the community closer to the land and its products. Sometimes, aspects of the economy beyond a farmer’s control can be impactful. For example, COVID-19 shut down schools that generally purchase milk cartons for school lunches. Farmers were impacted due to temporarily losing this consumer base. This is another reason why Clayton sees the need for producers to have multiple products and income streams. Farms that offer corn mazes, cafes, retail operations, and hayrides can best connect with their communities and increase resilience.

For those who are considering an agribusiness career pathway, Clayton believes a hands-on aspect of farming is critical to generate interest. Conservation and water treatment are important aspects of the industry, as is crop and animal production. Clayton encourages students in Putnam County to get involved in CTE classes, where they can participate in the Land Lab which features cattle, goats, and chickens. Membership in the FFA Chapter in Putnam County allows access to a local community garden that raises organic crops.

Overall, Clayton is approaching his career pathway by incorporating academic work, extra-curricular involvement, and hard work on his family’s farm. Clayton’s roots provide a clear agriculture pathway with a forward-looking route in Putnam County.

Kelly Oehler

University of Florida Graduate/Intern

“I want to show a steer in the County Fair,” Kelly Oehler told her parents one evening. Kelly’s interest was a result of a seventh-grade agriculture class at Wilkinson Junior High in Clay County. Her teacher, Mr. Johnson, mention steer and pig weigh-ins for some of the other students. Kelly was intrigued. Her parents were open to the possibility. The family had moved from Fleming Island to Middleburg and homesteaded on 34 acres to accommodate Kelly and her sister’s love of horses. The steer could accompany the family’s horses, chickens, and miniature donkeys.

This moment helped set Kelly on a career pathway that she once just considered a hobby. With the help of experts in the community, Kelly learned how to groom and show a steer. While she was sad when the steer was sold at auction, her interest didn’t diminish. In fact, she showed steer for six years.

At Middleburg High School, Kelly was involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA), which was her all-consuming extra-curricular activity. Kelly served as the secretary and president of her school’s chapter. Kelly was involved in placing in and judging various state contests from poultry to ornamental horticulture, learning skills like propagation of begonias via leaf cuttings. Participation in FFA also allowed Kelly to teach kindergarteners through Food for America. Once a month, she would teach students different agriculture lessons, from making butter, to planting flowers, to understanding egg embryology.

Kelly grew up loving all aspects of agriculture, but she didn’t anticipate that this would be her career pathway. After high school, Kelly pursued an Associate degree from Santa Fe College while working full time. She interned at the Jacksonville Zoo, intending to enroll in the University of Florida’s (UF) Zoology program. She pivoted from this program of study, encouraged to change her major to Animal Science. In the interim, she continued full time work for several years at the University Air Center adjacent to the Gainesville Regional Airport. Ultimately, she realized her current role did not offer growth potential and the love of ag hadn’t diminished. “I learned that we don’t all take the same pathway and it’s okay.” She enrolled at UF to study Animal Science. The degree has three concentrations: Animal Biology, Food Animal, and Equine. Kelly selected the Food Animal area of focus.

Once Kelly returned to school full time, she continued to keep a full-time work schedule saying, “If you really try, you can do it.” The commitment and enthusiasm needed to maintain such an intensive regimen resulted in Kelly’s graduation following the Spring 2020 semester with a bachelor’s in Animal Science and a minor in Agribusiness Management and Sales. She now joins her grandmother, mother, and sister as UF alumni.

As part of her program, Kelly was required to take an introduction to meats class. After doing so, she selected other classes such as meat processing, selection and grading, processing, evaluation, and food safety. Kelly’s education has provided many industry lessons. She said, “There are so many untrue facts about how the industry is represented as well as how products are marketed.” An avid proponent of the Farm to Table movement, Kelly indicated that sometimes consumers are provided half the narrative. For example, packaging indicating that chickens aren’t treated with any growth hormones isn’t newsworthy. In fact, it isn’t legal to give any chicken in the United States any kind of growth hormone. “Cage free” still involves chickens being raised in massive barns.

Kelly intended to intern with Tyson Foods in Illinois this summer prior to its cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, she secured a part-time internship at the UF’s Meat Lab. While initially disappointing, the smaller operation offered Kelly the opportunity to engage in all aspects of production from humane kill to slaughter wrapping and customer service via the UF Meat Store. Kelly notes that a USDA Inspector is on site to ensuring that the Humane Slaughter Act protocols are in place. One experience involved making bacon from over 80 animals, seeing the process from smokehouse to slicing.

Kelly said most people assume her degree is specific to pre-veterinary studies. However, her degree allows her to work in extension education, agribusiness management, and agricultural operations management. She can pursue a government job, such as a USDA Inspector. Kelly is particularly interested in jobs such as Food Safety Inspection Agent, specializing in import and export products. She says, “Agriculture is everywhere. It’s the backbone of this country. Thousands of animals help feed everyone each day. This is a way of life that has sustained generations of people.”