Dustin Grooms runs the family strawberry farm with love and duty

Apr 01, 18 Dustin Grooms runs the family strawberry farm with love and duty

By Mick Lochridge

Eight years in the Army taught Dustin Grooms a lot about fairness, hard work and duty. Blending that education with the life lessons he learned from his father growing up, he was armed with the maturity and know-how to take on the responsibility of running his family’s strawberry farm.

“Growing produce is a role that I take seriously,” said Grooms, the 36-year-old farm manager at Fancy Farms in Plant City. “I considered myself a hard but fair drill sergeant, and I apply that to farming, although my crew tells me we aren’t in the Army anymore.

“The same principles that my dad taught me I try to instill in anyone who works for me. One of the seven Army values is duty, which means to fulfill your obligations. As an American farmer, it is my duty to provide safe, quality and delicious berries to the consumer.”

Born and raised on the farm that his parents started in 1974, the young Grooms worked alongside his parents and decided that was where he belonged.

“When I was little I told them I didn’t need to go to school, that I was going to stay right here on the farm and be just fine,” he said. “I didn’t go to college, but I was in the Army for 81⁄2 years. I’m back on the farm, and I feel like I am doing just fine.”

He joined the family business when he left the service in 2007. Today he runs the operation, and his aunt is the office manager. His parents still lend a hand and advice. “My father is the only retired person I know who comes to work every day,” Grooms said.

Dustin grooms field

Dustin grooms field

“I have learned from my parents to trust in the Lord and He will take care of you,” he said. “Also to do everything with 110 percent effort, no matter what task is at hand.”

Fancy Farms grows berries on 170 acres, a big jump from the original 15. The farm has about 10 year-round employees and hires up to 175 during harvest season, typically from December to March. Grooms said he aims to produce about 500,000 pounds of berries each season. Wish Farms, also in Plant City, handles packing and distribution.

The crop is primarily Florida Radiance, but the farm also has planted Sweet Sensations and Florida Beauty. Grooms said he is looking forward to a new cultivar, Florida Brilliance, next year.

A graduate of Class 4 in FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program, Grooms praised the group: “The Florida future of agriculture is bright. FFVA has created this Emerging Leader Development class, and we’ve seen people rise up who are just as passionate about agriculture as I am. They’re there to make a difference. And we see people standing up. And people are getting excited about food.”

Grooms and wife Alison, who recently became an extension agent, are setting examples as good stewards of the land for their daughter, Skyler, 12.

“I love farming. I love every aspect of it. I love the challenges that I face every day,” he said. “I love to plant the seeds, to plant the plant. I love the growing of it. I love the taking care of it.

“The No. 1 thing is actually getting to eat it. And every day I get to go out there and bend down and pick a strawberry and I get to eat it. That’s what we live for, right there.”

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