Celebrate Plant City’s Finest at Annual Salute to Ag Luncheon on August 16

Join us as we celebrate the key players of Plant City’s agriculture industry at the annual Salute to Ag Luncheon.

When: Thursday, August 16, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm

Where: Florida Strawberry Festival Grounds, TECO Expo Hall, 2301 W. Oak Avenue, Plant City, FL

Fees/Admission: $20 Member Early Bird Registration (ends 8/10), $25 Member Registration, $30 Non-Member Registration

Register here: http://www.plantcity.org/events/details/chamber-networking-lunch-salute-to-ag-4213

We’re thrilled to recognize five award winners who made vital contributions to the Plant City agriculture industry and economy. We hope to see you there! Their biographies are listed below:


Tom Sturgis, Agriculture Educator of the Year

Thomas Sturgis grew up in Frostproof and was active in the Frostproof FFA chapter holding many officer positions. As an FFA member he showed heifers, steers and citrus and also participated on many competing teams. He knew by the 9th grade that he wanted to be an agriculture teacher because of his teacher and mentor - Mr. Jimmy Smith. Thomas graduated high school in 1986 and then from THE University of Florida.

Thomas took a job at Van Buren Junior High (near Busch Gardens) and taught Agriculture there for 4 years. Finally, in 1996 (3) Agriculture openings were at a new high school, Durant. He quickly interviewed and was offered the job by their principal, Mr. Ron Frost. There he began his career and currently plans on finishing it in another 10 years, when his son Jackson graduates from high school.

At Durant High School, Thomas currently coaches Citrus, Creed, Nursery & Landscape and the Ornamental Horticulture Demonstration contest. He has had 19 state winners in O H Demonstration contest, 1 in Creed, 3 in Nursery and Landscape and finally won Citrus in 2016 after 19 years. Successes with these events is what keeps the excitement and passion in his heart for his students to achieve.

Thomas has also coached several state winning Proficiency Awards in everything from Sheep Production to Horse Production and just this past June had a student win the Nursery & Landscape Proficiency Award who will be competing at FFA National Convention in October. He will also accompany his state winning Nursery &  Landscape team to National Convention and has already began practicing with them in preparation for the national contest.

Thomas also serves on several committees. He has been on the State Fair Swine Committee since 1995, and served as Superintendent 1999-2000; he is a member of the Strawberry Festival Swine Committee; has been the Chairman of the Festival Rabbit and Poultry Committee since 2004; and he’s also a member of the Hillsborough County Fair Swine Committee. Last year, Thomas was asked to be a member of the Suncoast Credit Union Advisory Committee.

Thomas is a member of the Plant City Church of God and currently resides with his family (wife – Racquel, daughter – Brenna and his son Jackson). He relocated his father (Daniel) a few years ago from Frostproof to Plant City and he lives Assisted Living Facility near Thomas’ home.


Ray Clark, Supporter of Youth in Agriculture

Ray Clark was born in downtown Plant City. Ray went to Kathleen Sr. High and grew up on a farm. His family grew citrus bell pepper, strawberries and raised cattle. He was very involved in 4-H and FFA at an early age. Ray went on to Polk Junior College then went on to attend and graduate from the University of Florida, where he received a BS in Agriculture. He then went on to earn a Masters Degree in Administration from the University of Tampa. Ray is married to Phyllis Clark and together they have a daughter Sylvia and a son Jeremy. Jeremy and his wife Angie have blessed Ray and Phyllis with three grandchildren - Cody, Maggie and Kaydee. All three have been or are currently involved with the FFA at Kathleen Sr. High. Cody is currently at the University of Florida, following in his grandad’s footsteps. Mr. Clark proudly served his country through the National Guard for 6 years in Lakeland and 4 years in Plant City. Ray started teaching at Plant City High in 1972, the very first year the new school opened and housed students from Turkey Creek, Pinecrest, Plant City and Marshall. Mr. Clark had 36 wonderful years at Plant City High School. He has been actively involved with the Strawberry Festival Steer Show since its beginning in 1972 and the Swine Show, since its beginning in 1982. He serves on the Florida Strawberry Festival Steer and Swine committees and he also serves on the the Florida State Fair Steer committee. He proudly sits on the State FFA Foundation Board and continues to be a huge promoter and supporter of the organization. He has also served as a past President of the Hillsborough County Ag Teachers. He recently was Polk County Cattlemen's President and also has served as the Polk County Cattlemen’s State Director. Ray is currently is serving as the PCCA Vice President. Ray was inducted into Kathleen Sr. High Hall of Fame and the Florida FFA Hall of Fame. He proudly holds the coveted Honorary State and American FFA Degrees. Currently Ray operates a cow/calf operation and enjoys spending time with family and friends and being involved at his church. Ray is still very involved with the FFA in Hillsborough and Polk County and throughout the State and lives his daily life holding to the truth that “God has really blessed me over the years and still continues to today!”


Everglades Equipment Group, Agribusiness of the Year

We are a family-owned business founded in 1963 in Belle Glade, Florida and have grown to 14 locations covering South and Central Florida. We have become one of the largest John Deere equipment dealers in the world by focusing on customer service, which includes our involvement in each dealership’s local community. The Plant City Community is very important to us and we enjoy giving back to an area that gives so much to its residents. We are proud to support the local high schools and their FFA chapters, along with the Hillsborough County Fair, and any other charitable organization where we can provide equipment or support. Our Everglades Plant City team maintains great relationships with their customers and the 2018 Agribusiness of the Year award would not be possible without two key players, Gary Noel and Bob Wells. Gary has been with Everglades since 2011 and was the Site Manager of our Palmetto location for 6 years prior to becoming the Site Manager at our Plant City location, where he provides strong leadership at our dealership. Bob has been working in the Plant City area since 1997, where he started his career as the Service Manager under different management, moved to Store Manager of then Southern Equipment in 1999, and finally in 2008 Bob felt he could make a better impact on the agricultural community as a Salesman for Everglades Equipment Group. Bob has maintained a strong commitment to the local farmers and agricultural businesses, he is a huge asset to us at Everglades and the Plant City Community. We are very grateful to accept the 2018 Agribusiness of the Year Award and are proud to be apart of the Plant City Community, thank you!


Lee & Dixie Gillman, Agriculturists of the Year

The Plant City Agriculturalist of the Year award has been presented each year since 1986 to those involved in production agriculture, have a history of industry achievement, and an exceptional record of service to the community.  The 2018 winners, Lee and Dixie Gillman, meet all the requirements and have worked with dedication to each other, their family, their faith, and friends to realize success.

Lee was raised in Dover and Dixie in Pinecrest. They were Introduced by mutual friends in 1994 and married in 1995. Lee was already growing strawberries and other crops. He began farming for himself in 1986. He currently owns and manages 40 acres of strawberries and has a small cattle operation.  Dixie began to manage the farm bookkeeping in 2004.  She often works in the packing shed during berry season, does the company payroll, and especially enjoys helping with the cattle operation. They began marketing through Wish Farms about three years ago because of the company’s broad customer base, especially the local shipping markets. Also, Wish features advanced product traceability and has a strong food safety program.

Lee was influenced by a whole generation of farmers, but his greatest influences were his dad Tommy Gillman, neighbor and friend Gene Roach, and 103 years old grandfather, JL “Poppa Buddy” Gillman. These men were advised and helped him as he navigated the changing agricultural industry. Lee and Dixie appreciate their families, many agricultural teachers, and “farming friends” who have encouraged and assisted them.

Lee and Dixie believe that it important to give back to the community and those who have helped them succeed. Lee is a board member of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. They are also members of the Florida Cattleman’s Association. The Gillmans enjoy helping youth that show an interest in agriculture. Lee has helped local agricultural teachers lay plastic for school fields. Dixie has helped coach FFA forestry teams and led a 4H group for several years. Both have been active in the FFA Alumni of Plant City High. They raise club calves for the Strawberry Festival and help 4-H members with steer projects through financial and hands-on assistance. They attend Bethany Baptist Church in Plant City.

The Gillmans knew farm values would be good for their children, but they were pleasantly surprised to see both boys pursue interests in the industry.  Buddy works year-round with Lee and Dixie on the family farm, and has his own operation for growing and pickling cucumbers.  Jarrett is currently pursuing an agribusiness degree at UF and is interning at Chemical Dynamics.

Lee & Dixie stated, “The future looks especially challenging for beginning farmers who wish to own and manage their own farms. The cost (and availability) of good farmland, the escalating production costs, government regulations, foreign competition, and labor issues are very challenging.  We foresee many potential farmers choosing to pursue other endeavors.  On the positive side there is always a way for a hard worker to get ahead.  We live in an area where fresh produce is popular and affordable.  We believe the next generation will discover new ways to market and package products and that new technology will make producing and harvesting crops easier.  One thing that won’t change is that every generation of farmer must realize that God is in control.”

Lee and Dixie Gillman have worked hard to become successful strawberry growers. Their success has led them to give back to the industry and community. It is with no hesitation that the Plant City Chamber of Commerce and the Farm Credit of Central Florida present them with the 2018 Agriculturalist of the Year Award.


Jake Raburn, Young Agriculturist of the Year

Jake Raburn was born and raised in Plant City. After graduating from Plant City High School in 2003, he attended the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences where he earned a degree in Agricultural Education and Communication with minors in Food & Resource Economics and Agricultural Law.

After graduating from the University of Florida, Jake was hired as a marketing coordinator at the Florida Department of Citrus. As a part of the marketing team at the Department of Citrus he managed web projects and assisted in industry relations. Two years later Jake had the opportunity to join his wife Melissa’s family business at Hinton Farms where he has worked for 9 years and currently serves as Director of Marketing.

In 2012, while serving on the Florida Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher Leadership Committee, Jake decided to run for office and was elected to represent the people of Southeast Hillsborough County in the Florida House of Representatives. While serving for three terms in the Florida House, he has held several leadership positions. He served as Vice-Chairman of Agriculture & Natural Resources, Vice-Chairman of Higher Education and Workforce, Vice-Chairman of Education Appropriations, Chairman of PreK-12 Quality Education, Chairman of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation and Deputy Majority Whip. For his work in agricultural policy, Jake has been recognized by several agricultural organizations. He was awarded “Legislator of the Year” awards from Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, Florida Nursery Growers and Landscapers Association and the Florida Forestry Association. In 2013 he was recognized as one of the University of Florida’s “Top 20 under 30” Alumni. In 2014, he was awarded the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ Outstanding Young Alumni Award. In 2015 he received the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences “Legislative Leader Award”. Jake has also been recognized as a Florida Farm Bureau “Champion for Agriculture” for the past 6 years.

In addition to his legislative service, Jake has served on the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center Advisory Council, the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni Board, the State of Florida Higher Education Coordinating Council, the Florida High School Athletic Association Public Liaison Advisory Committee, and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts Board of Trustees.

Jake and his Wife Melissa live on their farm in Lithia with their 4 kids; Jackson (7), Mason (4), Clayton (4) and Leah (2). Their children are 8th generation Floridians.

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