Title: 2010 Woman Of The Year In Agriculture: Ann Holt
Type: Woman of the Year in Agriculture Award
The east coast of Palm Beach County means sandy beaches, condominiums, and traffic. But travel just 20 minutes west and you’ll see a different Palm Beach County. Here, along the shores of Lake Okeechobee, are a number of small farming communities and nearly 400,000acres of row crops. While the urban and agricultural regions are only 20 miles from each other, they couldn’t be farther apart. Bringing the two together has been a goal for Ann Holt of Wellington.
Palm Beach County grows more fresh market sweet corn than any county in the United States. And, while agriculture is Florida’s second largest industry, Ann was surprised to learn that many residents knew little about agriculture, or its economic impact on the state and the county.
I realized that there was a lot of people that did not know anything about The Glades and what was grown out there and how important The Glades area is to Palm Beach County and to Florida and to the nation as far as providing food to the nation.
She started going to local grocery stores, and there’s no fresh corn. And she asked for produce managers, asking them why. And they’d tell us they can’t get it. I was leaving sweet corn in the field in the Belle Glade area because we couldn’t sell it.
It was kind of shocking to me that people 20 miles away from Belle Glade didn’t even know that’s where all their vegetables are grown during the winter. So I just thought that we needed to let these people know how important it is.
For that reason Ann took on the mission of educating people on agriculture’s value – economically and nutritionally - in Palm Beach County.
The child of school teachers, educating others comes naturally to Ann. Born in Lake City, her parents moved with Ann and her three brothers to Belle Glade when she was 6. She grew up there and met her future husband Tommy while in high school. They dated along the shores of Lake Okeechobee, a favorite spot that still holds a special place in their hearts, and married in 1965. Although she wasn’t raised in an agricultural family, Ann began working on the business side of Tommy’s farm by handling the payroll.
She’s been active in agriculture ever since.
Today, Ann manages the office of T. Holt Farms, and assists with Twin H Farms, a joint venture with long-time partners and family friends John and Patsy Hundley. She can be found working at the farm’s office in Belle Glade, from her home in Wellington, or in her car driving between the two locations. She often accompanies Tommy on his rounds through the fields; this allows the couple to catch up with Tommy Jr. who manages the farm.
Volunteering had always been a big part of Ann’s life. Once her children were off at college, she had time to take on new challenges by volunteering in other ways.
She became involved in the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau where her ability and enthusiasm were quickly recognized. She was the first woman elected to the board of directors and, working her way through the ranks, to become its first woman president.
Ann is a very unique leader, she’s a hands-on president. Through her leadership, through her investment in her county Farm Bureau, encouraging other farmers to invest in agriculture. She took a small county Farm Bureau with virtually no resources and it has become one of the most influential county farm bureaus in the state.
She organized and participated in countless meeting and trips to Tallahassee and Washington and hosted local luncheons with legislators to present the viewpoints of farmers and ranchers.
She’s not somebody that does this for her self-interest, she’s out there really for the industry … the agricultural industry.
From serving on the Farm Bureau scholarship committee, to helping with the local 4-H and FFA, many of her projects support and promote agriculture. Others focus on helping the community, such as toy drives at Christmas time, and the “Hungry for Golf” tournament benefitting the area’s food banks. And when her hometown of Belle Glade needed a new hospital, Ann helped the Chamber of Commerce with a fundraiser.
Ann has just the ability to get people to, to join her. Say, come along, let’s do something, let’s accomplish something. And pretty soon, while you may have had doubts initially, whatever doubts you’ve had were dispelled by her enthusiasm, her drive, and just her unflagging cheerfulness.
She has that ability to make us want to work with her. She pulls everyone together, and she has the ability to have everyone work in a cohesive way, but they have a great time.
You know, in one sense, we’re all in this together as farmers in agriculture. In another sense, we’re all competitors. And sometimes, there’s animosity from the competitor side and she’s respected enough that people trust her. She brings people together when a lot of other people couldn’t.
I’ve had several board members tell me. They said, as long as she’s here we’re there for her. And she has that ability.
In 2007 while president of the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau, Ann helped initiate an event to recognize the importance of the rural-urban partnership. While Ann may act as a catalyst, she understands that it’s only through everyone’s efforts that an event can be a success. Joining with the Palms West Chamber and the South Florida Fair, they started the county’s Farm-City Luncheon and Farm Tour. The annual event provides opportunities for agriculture and business leaders to find common ground.
For nearly a decade the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau has been educating the public and promoting the sweet corn industry through sales of sweet corn at the Delray Affair, a huge outdoor arts festival that draws a quarter-million people.
Ann also works with Cindy Griffin, Farm Bureau district representative from South Florida, at events promoting the Agriculture in the Classroom program that helps teachers educate students about the importance of agriculture.
Palm Beach County works with the UF-IFAS Extension Office awarding grants to boost agriculture awareness in the community. Art Kirstein has helped Ann and the Farm Bureau on a number of grants as well as other community projects.
During the winter months, as the area farmers are planting their sweet corn, Ann plans the layout of the Sundy Feed Store with Ag-Operations Manager Bettye Thompson. Located at the South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach, the historic building will house a variety of agriculture displays for students and countless other fair-goers.
She’s here bright and early to make sure that this building is ready and they have some sort of educational display to go with 7,000 Palm Beach County kids during, during our fair. Then she’s one of the last ones to leave at night. She believes in agriculture, she believes in teaching agriculture to children, and to anybody else who will stop and listen to her at the corn bin. She has the most passion that anybody could have for the things that she believes in. She’ll work night and day to get them done.
I have to tell you that I have never known anyone that brings the compassion and enthusiasm as Ann does to the industry she’s involved in.
In the late 1990s Ann had an idea to increase awareness and celebrate the harvest of the county’s sweet corn -- she’d start a festival with the profits supporting agriculture education and local food banks. It would be a huge undertaking, but if anyone could bring it together, it was Ann Holt. Organized by Ann and co-chair Eva Webb, the all-volunteer Sweet Corn Fiesta would be located in the Yesteryear Village at the South Florida Fairground’s and presented by the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau.
She inspired her board and others, probably hundreds of volunteers, to come to the fair and be a volunteer, to come to the Sweet Corn Fiesta and volunteer and, also, pay to be there.
She never takes “no” for an answer. So none of us has an opportunity to say “no” when she asks to help in shucking corn or help in selling vegetables in the, in the exhibit at the fair or whatever. She’s a tremendous asset to the agricultural industry in South Florida and, for that matter, the entire state.
She’s a volunteer leader, a true volunteer leader. Ann does not get paid for any of the time that she dedicates to all of her Ag promotion activities.
Even her volunteers probably don’t realize how much actual work goes into, like, the fiesta, uh, all the advertising lined up, T-shirts, trophies, medals, all the contestants. She orders every bit of that stuff.
In 2010 the Sweet Corn Fiesta celebrated its 10th anniversary, and draws more people every year.
And it’s most satisfying when people come up and say this is the best festival we’ve ever been to. It has just become a day that a lot of people say they look forward to all year. So that makes my committee real proud. We just worked real hard on that, so it’s kind of a dream come true for me.
While her activities bring joy to many people, Ann recognizes that a life in agriculture has its challenges, too. In 2005, the effects of Hurricane Wilma damaged the Farm Bureau office in Belle Glade so extensively that the building had to be gutted. In addition to her other duties as president of the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau, Ann and board member Wynn Jones have been overseeing the reconstruction.
For the Holt’s family farm it’s been a tough couple of years, too.
This year has been exceptionally bad. It started in January with freezes. Early March, we lost about 300 acres to a freeze. Early March, which was we were planting our Memorial Day corn, basically. Where we were at, we had a nine-inch rain. It all drowned out 280 acres.
In December, three freezes in two weeks wiped out a crop of corn and beans just 14 days from harvest. And there was nothing to do but disc it under and replant.
It’s what comes with the territory. We have no control over it. It’s not something that, you know, we can do differently next year to keep it from freezing. You just have to hope it doesn’t, and that’s all, hope and pray. And we know that the good Lord is going to take care of us one way or the other. So you just have to keep faith.
She’s pretty much the glue that holds everybody together. I mean, they do a lot to try and keep the family together and help in many ways, You know, they always seem to be someone needing something.
She’s an excellent wife and an excellent mother and would do anything for anybody in her family, not just immediate family.
She’s a great mother, always there for us. And I think that’s what I’ve always learned. You always be there for your kids, friends, family, other people. Whatever it is, you just jump right in and you don’t think twice about it. If somebody needs help, you just do it.
It’s just amazing how much she does for everybody else, and she doesn’t think about herself. She’ll stop on a dime just to make sure everybody is doing great, you know. And that’s just who she is.
Between helping her family, serving the community, or promoting Florida agriculture, with each undertaking, Ann sees a new opportunity.
24 hours in the day is not enough. I need more.