Hillsborough County 4-H was in a rough spot. A local farmer who had volunteered his field for a U-pick fundraiser had to back out at the last minute.
Hillsborough 4-H Foundation leader Betty Jo Tompkins turned to Carl and Dee Dee Grooms with a request—can we send a few hundred people to your farm to pick your bushes clean and keep for 4-H the money they spend for the berries? Just one time.
To Carl and Dee Dee, berries are business. But they’re also service. When Dee Dee took that call from Betty Jo, they were 25 years into a 4-H friendship that began with Betty Jo’s club gleaning the Fancy Farms fields to supply food banks and other charities with berries. And, after all, it was just one time.
Betty Jo called again the next year. And the next. And the next. They knew Betty Jo would be calling again this year. But this time she wanted to surprise and honor them. She needed to see them in person.
It was easy to find them. The Grooms family has won so many awards for their service to the agriculture industry that all Betty Jo had to do was show up at a ceremony where they were already being honored by someone else. She went to the Regent in Riverview, where Carl and Dee Dee’s family was being honored for 2022 Outstanding Project of the Year Award from the Hillsborough County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Sixteen annual calls later and $100,000 raised for 4-H since Betty Jo’s just-one-time request, she asked Carl and Dee Dee to bring the family to Gainesville in July to be inducted into the Florida 4-H Hall of Fame.
Carl explained from the stage last month that he never belonged to a 4-H club but that he got the lessons of 4-H at home on the farm from his dad. Today, he sees 4-H and his berry fields as tools to teach youth those same lessons. The U-picks teach adults as well, namely, where their food comes from, how much work goes into producing it, and how important it is that Floridians support agriculture.
The Grooms family’s generosity has paid for a lot of residential summer camp scholarships and 4-H University scholarships, trips to Tallahassee for 4-H Legislature, as well as trips to state, regional and national judging events.
Betty Jo has dropped all pretense by this point. In fact, she doesn’t even call Dee Dee. Carl and Dee Dee’s son Dustin runs the farm now.
Though Dustin was never formally in 4-H, he was raised the same way his dad was. He got those 4-H lessons at home on the farm. Only he had hundreds of 4-Hers coming to his home and farm to learn those lessons, too. Dustin’s always ready for Betty Jo’s call, and he always says yes. She and 4-H long ago taught him the true meaning of “Just one time.”
J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).