History helps Floridians solve identity crisis, Putnam says
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 9:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 9:59 p.m.
The state of Florida will be better equipped to make sustainable, long-term decisions when it gains a shared sense of history and common identity, Florida's commissioner of agriculture said Thursday night during an appearance at the University of Florida.
During the first of a yearlong series titled “Florida Agriculture: 500 Years in the Making” that stresses the importance of agriculture in Florida, Commissioner Adam Putnam hosted a panel discussion before about 200 people at the Straughn Center near the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Florida suffers from the absence of identity,” Putnam said. “We're so global. So many people are from other places. It is viewed as a reward in many ways, or a life well-lived someplace else.”
To reinforce his point, Putnam started by reading a passage from “The Orchid Thief,” a 1998 nonfiction book about poaching rare flowers.
“The flow in and out is so constant that exactly what the state consists of is different from day to day,” he said. “It is a collision of things you would never expect to find together in one place ... under the same sunny vault of Florida sky.”
Then he opened the floor to his panel: Dr. Steven Noll, a senior lecturer of history at UF; John Griffin, a Dade Battlefield Society member; his grandnephew, Matthew Griffin, a UF student and Seminole War re-enactor; and Marilyn Bishop Shaw, a writer and fifth-generation Floridian.
Using the idea of agriculture as a stepping stone, the panel explored a number of topics: the role of war and racism in shaping Florida, sustainability and the future of the food supply, learning to accept cultures of all shapes and sizes.
“We have, at some level, a constituency that doesn't think of Florida as an identity,” Noll said.
Shaw agreed, and said history was the bridge to fixing that problem.
“We need to share the background so that we understand where we come from. It's very difficult to make wise decisions if we don't know the whole story.”
The younger Griffin said the problem also lay in monolithic stereotypes, like Disney World and crystalline beaches.
“We have to go back and erase them,” he said. “It affords us the opportunity to teach people around the world about the state of Florida.”
When the panel opened the floor for questions, Putnam fielded each inquiry with a smile. Getting people involved in the state's dense history is his ultimate goal, he said.
“I was thrilled with the turnout,” he said. “The questions from both community leaders and students were great. It was a forum that anyone who came with any background came away with something they hadn't known before. And hopefully their enthusiasm will be contagious.”
The “Florida Agriculture” series includes five more events, the next of which is at Flagler College on March 31.