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Guest Commentary

Momentum for Manatee County Agriculture


The agricultural momentum in Manatee County is building steam in a way that this area has not seen for decades, between small agricultural communities fighting off development and keeping their homesteading roots, land, and zoning. We are also seeing a dynasty established with multi-generational ag businesses boldly taking on the future of being a leader in ag for manatee counties next generation. These decisions sound easy, exciting, and common sense, but the community value, difficulty, and sacrifice are higher than ever.

Manatee County ranked 4th in the state of Florida in market value of agriculture products in the 2017 (updated data should be released in late 2024) census report. Agriculture has been a pivotal component of our economy and our community. Dakin Dairy Farms has been vital to the Manatee County community for over two decades. The Dakin family has been milking cows in Manatee County, Florida, since 1973.  From amazing chocolate milk to cheese curds, farm tours, and a delicious café, Dakin Dairy is an asset to Manatee County residents. Jerry Dakin was recognized as the 2023 Farmer of the Year by the Florida Farm Bureau for his passion, dedication, and commitment to agriculture. Then, he announced that he was selling his dairy, but he committed to selling it to another agricultural producer to preserve the land.

There was an extreme amount of speculation that a developer still might sneak their way into the property on Betts Road and build houses. The rumors were flying on social media, and in all honesty, people were heartbroken. Just recently this week, Dakin Dairy announced that the next generation of Dakins was taking over the business. They refer to themselves as “The Boys.” That’s Garrett, Grant, Ethan, and Jason, who stepped up to keep the legacy of Dakin Dairy alive.

With the announcement came the most incredible thing: the outpour of support and love for the dairy. In Dakin’s announcement post, hundreds and hundreds of residents commented and shared their post! Many residents shared thoughts like, “amazing news,” “glad you kept it in the family,” “We love your family and love that we can get Dakin milk at Detwiler’s,” “this is the best news,” “So happy to hear this and that it’s not a developer,” “You guys and your families are going to do great! Added growth and value in local produced ag products are in your favor! Such good news,” and the list of excitement and compliments go on.

We could not be happier for the Dakins, as they are our friends but, more importantly, a pillar of agriculture production within Manatee County. So, the question is, how do we keep this momentum? How does Manatee County Agriculture stay at the forefront of citizens' minds, county commissioners' minds, and even in the news?

Per the 2022 USDA Ag Census, Manatee County has only 692 farms left that reside on about 38% of the land in our county.  Multigenerational businesses are an anomaly. According to Score, “Only 30% of family businesses survive the transition from 1st to 2nd generation, and only 12% survive the transition from 2nd to 3rd generation.” The impact of a multigenerational business in a local community is profound. Kids growing up with team sponsors, like Mixon Fruit Farms, who sponsored my little league team, were not only supporting the community but also safe places that families could go for a wholesome atmosphere. Sadly, we lost Mixon Fruit Farms in 2023 as a brick-and-mortar business. (Be on the lookout for the Mixon Swirl Food Truck, though!)

Another staple business that had lasted generations was Reasoner’s Nursery. This was the kind of established agricultural business that someone could start working at, spend a career, and retire on. As we look at these local businesses that we no longer have in our community, we look at the impact they had on our community. According to Nelly Nelson, UF IFAS Extension, “For every $100 spent at a local business, $68 stays in the community.” The news about Dakin Dairy changing hands to the 4th generation cements it as one of the main pillars of local businesses in Manatee County. There are many farms and operations that are still striving for third and fourth generations to take over. So how can you, as the consumer, help get them there?

The University of Florida Extension has a great resource called the UF IFAS Food Directory. You may notice that many farms listed are “Not open to the Public.” They may not have agritourism or a way to visit their farm, but it is still vital to seek out their products. For instance, if you’re looking for ornamental plants from Ralph Taylor’s Nurseries (our 3rd generation family nursery), you must visit your local Home Depot store to support us. If you want to support Jones Potatoes, you would need to purchase Frito Lay or Golden Flake products. Looking for fresh flowers that are sustainable and locally grown? Find out what market Mindful Blooms Farm is at to add a wonderful arrangement to your table.

There are other agricultural entities in our community that select certain weekends in which they will have an open house to invite the public once or twice per year to visit their operation. It’s imperative that you mark your calendars and support that business! For instance, if you’re looking for the most beautiful Poinsettias, be sure to visit Orban’s Nursery for their once-a-year open house in November. Looking for native trees? For the first time ever, McKeithen Growers opened their doors to the public for a festival this past April. Hunsader Farms is a staple for multiple family-friendly festivals and a year-round farm market!

Knowing where your local agriculture businesses sell or even when they may have an open house is the same as knowing that Dakin Dairy sells their milk at Detwiler’s. Those dollars supporting a local business do more than provide jobs in your community; they also support Little League teams, local community projects, and so much more.

We must be diligent in supporting the agricultural entities within Manatee County, even if it takes a little more work on the consumer’s side to do the research. It’s easy to blame farmers for “selling out” to developers, but when we reflect upon ourselves, we must ask, “Do I truly support our local farmer, rancher, or grower?” Are you reading the labels on the plants you purchase or looking for the Fresh from Florida logo? Are you putting the once-a-year festival on your calendar and booking that quality family time at the farm? It’s easy to walk into Publix, buy Mexican-grown blueberries and other foreign-grown produce, and walk out. We are all guilty of it at some point, but the more focus and purpose we put into our choices as a consumer, the stronger agriculture in our county and state will become.

Our ability as a community to support local agriculture brings obvious financial benefits to the community as well as protects and preserves our lands. As discussed in our previous blog (food safety), it is imperative that we have these resources in our community in times of difficulty. Whether that is facilitated by storms or conflicts in other areas of the world, knowing we have a safe and thriving local food supply is something we all must be accountable for.

Janyel Taylor and her husband, John, operate Ralph Taylor’s Nursery, a third-generation nursery that has been in Manatee County since 1968. Their products are available at area Home Depot stores.  The Taylors are the authors of The Veranda View, a blog that focuses on agricultural advocacy and education.


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