Years ago, when I lived in Gainesville and worked at Big Trees Plantation, I was a member of FNGLA's Frontrunners Chapter. We grew a few B&B (that's balled and burlapped, for those outside the industry), but mostly container trees and woody ornamentals for the robust landscape market in north central Florida. We were (and remain) tree guys - always pruning and staking, laying down and picking up, loading and tarping. Fifteen and 30-gallon material was our wheelhouse, but many chapter members grew much larger sizes. From time to time, I would hear a speech or read an article by FNGLA CEO Ben Bolusky (who is now enjoying his well-earned retirement) about ‘foliage.’ I often wondered what all the fuss was about. After all, we were tree guys and, what else is there?
Fast forward a few years. I have since become a salesman for BioSafe Systems and am now a member of FNGLA's Action Chapter. At this point, I began to realize just what all the ‘fuss’ which inspired Ben’s eloquent missives was about. I found myself immersed in what was, to me, a completely unknown world. I became a frequent visitor to the good people on Plymouth-Sorrento Road, Kelly Park Road, Britt Road and many other areas across the state where foliage growers were concentrated. Shortly thereafter, I began to visit the good folks in Redland, and nearby on 217th, Tennessee Rd, Naranja Rd, 162nd Ave., and beyond. It was at this time I fully understood what Ben was talking about.
To this day, while travelling across Florida for BioSafe and FNGLA, I still become inspired when visiting these locales. The breadth and depth of the foliage industry in our great state is simply unrivaled. Tampa Bay Buccaneer great Warren Sapp, who is from the Apopka area, famously stated in his NFL Hall of Fame induction speech he hailed from, ‘Apopka, the indoor foliage capital of the world!’ After working in these regions for years, there’s simply no denying it. Couple that with the Homestead/ Redland region - unquestionably the ‘tropical foliage’ capital of the world, and we have what equates to the #1 state in the U.S. for floriculture production (per latest USDA report). Reinforcing this point, Costa Farms, which is headquartered near Homestead, was ranked #1 in Greenhouse Grower’s 2022 ‘Top 100’ as the largest operation in America, joining nine others from the Sunshine State who made the list.
Just a few days ago, FNGLA CEO Tal Coley and I had the pleasure of visiting Homestead to meet with several FNGLA Miami-Dade Chapter members. We toured facilities to immerse ourselves in tropical foliage production and related issues. We spent an afternoon learning from the amazing folks at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research & Education Center (TREC). TREC Directory Edward 'Gilley' Evans, Ph.D., and his team are the front line against so many of the pest and disease issues plaguing Florida. Their efforts are to be commended and supported whenever possible. A huge tip of the Stallings Crop Insurance Commemorative Ben Bolusky Cap to the folks at TREC, Alpha Foliage, Arazoza Brothers, Pure Beauty Farms, Bullis Bromeliads, Silver Vase, Costa Farms and Railroad Nursery for your time, feedback and generous hospitality.
“So what’s with all the foliage talk this month, Eric?” Well, in just a few short weeks, FNGLA will host the 50th anniversary of the Tropical Plant International Expo (TPIE) in Tampa, January 18-20, 2023. This event has become a focal point of much of the global foliage trade, and is right here in our backyard. As someone who has come to know and greatly admire the many FNGLA member companies who are family foliage businesses, I hope those of you reading this will attend for a day or two. See the AMAZING horticulture on display, network with peers, grow your business and spend more time immersed in the beauty our great state and association has to offer.
Eric Smith (BioSafe Systems, Tampa)
FNGLA 2022-23 President