Larry and Debbie Swindle’s passion for Florida agriculture parallels their contribution. The Plant City based farming family has worn many hats in their decades involved in the agriculture industry—dating even before the couple met.
“We’ve both been involved in agriculture for as long as we can remember,” said Debbie. “My dad bought property in 1954 after he came back from the army. We farmed strawberries and vegetables.”
“My grandparents had cattle and my parents had citrus groves and row crops. We hosted several u-picks for the community,” shared Larry.
Larry and Debbie married in 1975 and Larry started farming strawberries with Debbie’s father soon after. For 15 years, the Swindles farmed a variety of commodities alongside strawberries.
In the early nineties, Larry returned to his construction roots and worked an assortment of jobs within his father’s company. After two and a half years, he became an estimator. Larry was promoted to and retired as President of the company in January 2015.
Since the early nineties, the Swindles have been working with agricultural youth. They realize their investment will result in a generation ready to tackle the agricultural challenges in the wake of a growing population.
Larry, an alumnus of Plant City High School, sits on the board of directors for the Florida FFA Foundation and Alumni Association, two entities that exist to support the almost 18,000 active members of the Florida FFA Association.
Debbie and Larry work best behind the scenes chaperoning FFA events, manning registration tables, cooking for fundraisers and other assortments of odd jobs.
Providing the “why” behind the Swindles’ dedication, Debbie says, “Growing up, my parents stressed the importance of keeping agriculture in the family. Since it became our livelihood, I understand exactly what they were talking about. We’ve kept agriculture noticeable through our cattle operation and food production, but FFA really teaches the professional skills needed to progress this industry.”
Years of helping with contests, chaperoning conventions and donations to FFA chapters led to Debbie and Larry being inducted into the Florida FFA Hall of Fame on September 25, 2017. This distinct honor is afforded to those who have donated their time and talents to make Florida FFA the premier youth organization in the state.
Many hail the Swindles as “Florida FFA’s biggest cheerleaders” but their contribution to the youth in agriculture reaches far beyond the FFA. They believe there is real stock in empowering students to study agriculture after high school.
Debbie has served on the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Special Help for Agricultural Research and Education (SHARE) Council, a group of volunteers committed to the effort of identifying, cultivating and securing sources of private support for UF/IFAS as part of the non-profit University of Florida Foundation, Inc (UFF). Through her involvement on this committee, she received the Volunteer of the Year award in 2014.
Coupled with their work at the University of Florida, the Swindles have contributed to Warner University’s Agriculture Studies program, made a generous donation to build the Ed and Myrtle Lou Swindle Agricultural Complex in 2016.
“We want to ensure students continue to study agriculture. It’s so important,” said Debbie. “With Warner being a Christian college, we know the students are being fed in mind, body and soul.”
The Swindles also give back to their agriculture community, by supporting the annual Florida Strawberry Festival in Hillsborough County, the Hillsborough County Fair and the Polk County Youth Fair. They sponsor youth livestock programs by providing financial support for several exhibitors and sharing their expertise and time to foster a love for agriculture in the youth.
That love was successfully fostered among Larry and Debbie’s children and grandchildren: their daughter, Stephanie, is married to Jason Conrad. Their children are Anna, 19, Madilyn, 16, Shalee, 11, and Tucker, 9. Their son, Johnathan, is married to Lori. Their children are Ava, 10, and Alli, 5.
Jason and Stephanie dove feet first into the FFA in middle school. Stephanie competed on the state-winning Parliamentary Procedure and Forestry teams. Her daughter, Anna, was Florida FFA State Vice President for the 2016-2017 academic year, and Madilyn is the sub-district chairman and district secretary for Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties . Larry refers to Shalee fondly as the “ranch manager,” claiming she knows more about the ranch than “anyone I’ve ever met.” Tucker is an avid outdoorsman, loving to fish, hunt and play baseball. All four children excel in the livestock show ring, competing in local jackpot shows all the way to the North American International Livestock Exhibition in Louisville, Kentucky. Ava and Alli love attending shows with their family and helping on the ranch.
The time and resources the Swindles have devoted to agriculture education, youth programs and the community, have resulted in a number of accolades including: the Honorary Chapter FFA Degree from numerous FFA chapters in Hillsborough County, the Honorary State FFA Degree and the Honorary American FFA Degree. They have also received the Florida FFA Blue and Gold Award and are lifetime members of the National FFA Alumni Association.
Larry and Debbie Swindle’s involvement in agriculture is substantial, and they have no plans to quit. Contributing their charitable lifestyle to their faith, Debbie said, “We would have nothing if it weren’t for God. Our faith is our top focus, and we thank Him every day for what we have been afforded. We’ve been blessed, and we enjoy sharing that blessing with others.”
“The children are our future,” said Larry. “We have to take care of them so they understand the important role agriculture plays when it’s their turn to be the farmers, business owners and lawmakers.”
Florida agriculture has benefitted greatly because of the Swindles. FFA members are able to continue their studies in the agriculture field, knowing they have innovative resources to supplement their learning. The Swindles’ altruism is admired by many, and because of their efforts, agricultural youth can not only enjoy, but contribute to the future of agriculture.