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Right to Farm law helps farms ward off developers

The pressures for Florida farmers to sell their land to developers are immense. I’ve been approached probably a dozen times to sell our farmland in Windermere, but I remain committed to growing the food on which our communities rely. Strengthening Florida’s Right to Farm law will help farms like mine stay in business.

My brother, Mark, and I own and manage 7,500 acres of citrus and a you-pick blueberry farm here in Florida. It’s a family business that was started by my great-granddad in the 1890s. The heart of our operation is just a few miles from Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

There was a time when this region was 100% agriculture. Over the last few decades, we’ve welcomed many new neighbors around us. An aerial view of Beck Brothers Citrus shows hundreds of homes around us, a few clubhouses, retail shops, a school and a fire station. In fact, today, we are the last remaining agricultural operation in the general area.

It’s no surprise that developers have been interested in our land. But I remain committed to our mission: growing and harvesting food that Americans love and enjoy.

The growth of the urban population around our groves has brought many challenges. Nuisance lawsuits, for example, are complaints from others about the smell, sound or disturbance that one may experience when living around a farm. Oftentimes these complaints are frivolous and unjust. It’s easy for a resident to make a complaint, but it can be extremely taxing for a farm to properly defend its business against the complaint. We have to hire attorneys, conduct research and spend our time and resources defending a lawful, normal agriculture operation just because someone considers us a nuisance.

In a recent example, a neighbor to our grove in Lake Wales threatened a lawsuit against us because of the presence of bees. He called law enforcement, left threatening messages and expressed his intention to sue.

Bees are essential to many farms as they play an important role in pollinating crops. In Polk County, where there are hundreds of acres of citrus groves, bees are commonplace during bloom season. While we removed our hives in response to his threats, there are still hundreds of bees swarming the area this time of year. It may be a nuisance to him, but it is essential to citrus operations.

There’s no reason that homes and agriculture cannot coexist peacefully in the Sunshine State. It just requires education and understanding. The urban growth around our blueberry farm in Windermere presented us with an opportunity. We invited the public in to pick their own blueberries and learn about farming.

Students from the nearby elementary school visit us every year, and I ask “where does your food come from?” Most often their reply points to the grocery store. To me, these are great opportunities for education. I get to share with the students how food is grown, cared for and harvested. When these students have the opportunity to learn about agriculture, it’s my hope that they’ll have a greater understanding and appreciation for farms. For today’s population and for future generations, it’s critically important that we protect the long-term sustainability of agriculture. Farms like mine produce the food we need to survive. This legislative session, there’s a proposal to strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm law. SB 88 by Sen. Jason Brodeur and HB 1601 by Rep. Jayer Williamson promote the long-term sustainability of agriculture by fending off unjust threats like nuisance lawsuits. The bill limits complaints to those that come from one-half-mile geographic proximity. It also enhances the evidence standard so that those who bring complaints against farmers have the evidence to prove their concerns.

These protections for Florida agriculture will go a long way toward preventing unjust nuisance lawsuits like the threat we faced in Lake Wales. It will help keep farms like mine in business. I have a son, daughter and nephew in our business, and it’s my hope that they’re able to carry on our family tradition.

Show your support for Florida’s farmers and tell your state legislators that you support Florida’s Right to Farm.

Glenn Beck is an owner and manager of Beck Brothers Citrus, headquartered in Windermere. The company manages a you-pick blueberry farm in Orange County and citrus groves across multiple counties in Florida.

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