Title: 2004 Woman of Year: Teena Borek
Type: Woman of the Year in Agriculture Award
For more than thirty years Teena Borek has worked the soil of Dade County. Like most Florida farmers she has faced more than her share of adversity while trying to preserve the family farm. But like her prized heirloom tomatoes, her story is unique and multi-facetted. Through innovation and determination, she has carved out a niche market for her family with specialty crops. She’s tirelessly promoted agriculture, and been an advocate for migrant workers. And for all that she does, it’s no wonder that the results of her efforts bear her label: Teena’s Pride.
Teena grew up in a small town in Newfoundland, visiting her aunt’s home in Dade County during summer vacations. She got her first taste of agriculture while working on a nearby farm. It was there that Teena met the owner’s son, Steven Borek. The two fell in love, got married and – soon after starting a family – began Steven Borek Farms, Inc. Teena kept the books and cared for the couple’s two young sons, while Steven worked the fields. It was going to be the traditional American farm story. But in 1980, tragedy struck. At the age of 24, Steven was killed in an accident, leaving Teena with two toddlers to raise and a 500-acre farm to run.
Bob Borek – President Robert Borek Farms: They had just started farming on their own. And the whole world changed that day. The farming and the business was thrust upon her without a lot of experience, in debt, and she just did what she had to do and, went to work and got the job done.
Teena Borek was determined to keep the farm. Driven by the desire for her sons, Steven Jr. and Michael, to follow in their father’s footsteps, Teena juggled the demands of motherhood with the demands of the farm. With help from the Borek family, the Ag community and experts like Dr. Herb Bryan from the University of Florida, Teena made it through her first season. Over the years, the many hardships and setbacks she faced were more like challenges to her. In 1992, when Hurricane Andrew devastated the Homestead area, Teena, like most of the growers in the region, lost nearly everything. Despite having most of her farming equipment destroyed, Teena was intent on rebuilding the farm, planting 60 acres of seed corn just days after the storm.
With her sheer tenacity, Teena not only rebuilt the farm, she saw it grow. Through it all she has credited her success to the help she’s received from her employees, neighboring farmers, and her family.
Teena Borek – President, Steven Borek Farms, Inc.: I had very good people around me that helped me. We had a foreman, Julian Dahl, that was outstanding. He retired maybe two years ago when the boys got older. Your company or whatever you do is only as good as the people that surround you. And I had good people around me.
Teena, herself, proved to be an excellent and innovative grower. Once Dade County’s only female row crop farmer, Teena was constantly learning and experimenting. Never afraid to take chances on new practices or technologies, she was the first in the county to use a linear irrigation system, saving time, money and water.
Long before it was in vogue, she starting using Integrated Pest Management, an environmentally friendly practice that reduces the need for pesticides.
Mary Lamberts –Miami-Dade County Extension Agent: Teena’s been a real good person as an early adapter, and we’ve worked on various things related to her farm. Integrated pest management has certainly been an important component because this part of the state has more pests, insects and diseases than any other section.
Her ability to adapt can be seen in not just how she grows but what she grows. Seeing a trend in the market, Teena shifted from growing about 1,000 acres of seed corn in the 1980s to today’s 500 acres of sweet corn, tomatoes, beans and specialty crops.
Bob Epling – President and CEO, Community Bank of Florida: Teena has a keen market understanding of what the consumer wants. And by moving from the more traditional crops into these specialty crops, she’s found a niche. She’s transitioned. She’s made it profitable. And she’s cut an area out for herself in which she’s considered one of the truly outstanding growers of the specialty crop. The fact that she would transition and move into that and do a lot of pioneer work, I think speaks to Teena and her tenacity.
Recognized for their exceptional quality, “Teena’s Pride” Heirloom Tomatoes and miniature vegetables are in high demand by gourmet markets.
Willy Munoz – Produce Manager, Gardners Market: I think she’s has been an asset to Gardener’s Company by bringing in all different types of squashes and tomatoes that she grows. The quality is excellent, flavor-wise: beautiful. It’s not refrigerated. It’s straight from the vine to the box and into the store.
Fine restaurants truly appreciate the quality and unique flavors of “Teena’s Pride” Heirloom Tomatoes and miniature vegetables. Chefs from Miami’s five-star restaurants routinely visit the farm to pick the delicacies from the fields.
Jeffrey Brana –Chef, Norman’s Restaurant: Well, we look for to, every year right around Christmastime and the New Year, being able to go down to the farm and pick out some tomatoes and some squash and things of that nature. It’s something that we get our guests who are here on a regular basis; they look forward to it as much as we do. There’s a dedication to quality and a product that’s there that I feel very lucky to be using. It’s something that is the foundation of what great cuisine was based on: using the best possible product in the best possible way, and trying to make the most out of that product.
Teena: I think marketing is the most enjoyable part of growing vegetables. I love getting the consumer to eat what we grow. And one of the best things I think the Florida Department of Agriculture ever did was, a few years ago, when they started Fresh From Florida. And I’m a charter member of that program. And that sun, being put on our boxes and I’ve seen it all over Canada when I’ve been there and different places. That really makes people feel good when they want winter vegetables and they go to the Florida Sun.
Supporting Florida’s farming industry is important to Teena, and she is eager to share her experience and hard-earned knowledge with her community and other growers. In the mid-eighties, Teena spearheaded the use of computers on small farms. Helped in her research by Dr. Joe Dalton and financed by the Community Bank of Florida, Teena found an accounting program specifically designed for small farms that became a standard for the local Ag community. While director of the Dade County Agri-Council, she headed an effort to produce a video promoting the area’s agriculture. Teena has also served as president of the Dade County Farm Bureau, and has been a member of its board of directors since 1985.
Katie Edwards – Executive Director Dade County Farm Bureau: During Teena’s leadership as President of the Farm Bureau, we were able to take the Farm Bureau to greater heights, furthering the work that had been done by our predecessors. We made Dade County Farm Bureau the President’s Award Winner which is the most prestigious honor that a county farm bureau can get from Florida Farm Bureau. And it recognizes us both as an industry leader and also as one of the premiere county farm bureaus in the State of Floirda.
Teena is also a graduate of the Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources. This two-year leadership program prepares farmers to take on leadership roles on community, state and federal levels. For her part, she has also appeared on PBS’ “Frontline”, spoken before the World Trade Organization and testified at Senate hearings discussing the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Teena’s leadership qualities, business sense, and knowledge of the area and agriculture have made her a valuable asset as a member of the Board of Directors for the Community Bank of Florida. She also serves on the boards of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, the Dade County Agricultural Practices Board and the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.
It was at the 2003 Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association Benefit Auction that Teena was able to support one of her passions – assisting migrant workers. Through the auction, Teena helped raise over $76,000 for the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, an organization that creates and fosters opportunities for the children of migrant and other low-income rural families.
Teena’s involvement with the non-profit Everglades Community Association helps to provide modern housing for farm workers.
Steven Kirk – Executive Director of Everglades Community Association: We need the insight of the agricultural community. And so it’s been so important to have her contribution as a grower who understands workers’ needs, workers’ patterns of travel and mobility, so that we can make sure that, in providing a service to families who live here, we’re also providing a service to the agricultural community so the work force they need is in the right place.
Thanks to her efforts, similar neighborhoods are being implemented in the farming communities of Immokalee, Ruskin, Fort Piece, and soon, LaBelle.
From its inception, Teena has donated produce and equipment to Farm Share, which works to alleviate hunger by recovering fresh food for distribution to the needy.
Patricia Robbins – President, Farm Share: She understands the need to get fresh vegetables to the elderly and children here in the state of Florida. She has been a great contributor and in her efforts to promote the program and to give us fresh vegetables which we, in turn, give to feed the hungry.
Teena’s love of Florida’s history has her lending her support to the Florida Heartland Heritage Foundation’s cultural and historical facility, Florida Heritage Park.
Florida Heritage Park, located in Lake Placid. The park will not only highlight Florida’s rich history through dramatic presentations, pioneer settlements and Indian villages, but will encompass a nature preserve as well.
Anne Reynolds – Vice President, Florida Heartland Heritage Foundation: Teena brings a lot of expertise … She has a lot of knowledge that she’s willing to share. She’s a generous person. She’s generous in her enthusiasm and encouragement.
Michael Borek – Vice President, Steven Borek Farms: She’s always tried to do the best in every job that she’s done. She’s been very giving of herself, her time, her efforts. She just tries to do her best as far as everybody’s concerned.
Teena’s generous nature is evident in all of her dealings; volunteering, mentoring, helping to make changes in the lives of migrant labor. Behind it all is one basic philosophy:
Teena: It’s real simple: it’s “do a deed of simple kindness, though its end you may not see and it will pass like rippling waters down along eternity.” That’s why you’re supposed to volunteer.
It’s extremely important to Teena to give back to her community and those interested in agricultural careers. She currently is involved with Florida Agri-Women – a network of women promoting Florida Agriculture to consumers and legislators. She received the group's first Founder's Award in 2004. Through her farm’s internship program, she has mentored dozens of young people in agriculture, hosting students from as far away as Poland and South Africa.
Bob Borek: That’s pretty difficult these days to actually run a farm and make a profit. And she’s been able to do that over a course of 30 years. Good times, bad times, freezes, floods, poor markets, diseases, bugs, hurricanes; you name it, we’ve all gone through it. And she’s been right there and she’s been able to get through it and keep her farm together. And I think the drive was for her kids, that she wanted to pass the farm on to her kids.
Teena taught her two sons, Steven Jr. and Michael, to love the land just as their father loved it. Through her hard work and dedication, she led by example, showing them the importance agriculture and the family farm. Now, after years of devotion, she knows that the fruit of her labor – Teena’s Pride – is much more than just the crops she grows …
Teena: Teena’s Pride -- they wear it every day and don’t realize it’s Steven and Michael. And when they wear those caps and it says Teena’s Pride across there, they think it’s just my vegetables. But they are the first and utmost Teena’s Pride.