What we do
As seedlings grow, so does his smile
By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN
Published July 21, 2006
Jay Sizemore surveys his domain from a double-cab Ford pickup.
[Times photo: Skip O'Rourke]
FARMER: Jay Sizemore.
Before him, the earth stretches flat and gray to the treeline. A green John Deere tractor crawls down long rows, packing the dirt.
Every season starts and ends this way, a blank slate.
This is the part that Sizemore loves. The transformation of the earth.
You wouldn't think him an artist, the former football fullback from Plant City High who talks with a slow drawl made thicker by the Grizzly chewing tobacco stuck in his cheek.
Yet the creation of turning a pickup bed full of seed into 500 semitrailer trucks full of fruit still amazes him.
It's late June, and the strawberries are all gone. So are the cantaloupe, recently hauled out of the fields after eight frenzied weeks of work.
All the workers are about gone, too, off to find landscaping jobs or to toil up North with cucumbers and blueberries until the fall.
Sizemore is still here. He never leaves. He wrangles with buyers. He inspects the fields.
He can't remember when he took a vacation last, though he's thinking of taking his wife to the beach. She works in the office, keeping the books.
Jay Sizemore is one-half of JayMar Produce. Marvin Brown is the other half. Together they hold more than 900 acres east of Wimauma.
Sizemore, 57, grew up working his dad's farm in Plant City and got sick of it. He left for the University of Tennessee on a football scholarship, came back after a year and moved closer to home. Over the next nine years or so, he got a degree in geography from the University of Florida.
Back home in Plant City, Sizemore realized the earth was in his blood.
He worked on farms, lost a watermelon crop to a hailstorm in Immokalee and decided to start buying land in south Hillsborough in the late 1990s.
Every fall, you pay for seeds, you pay the workers, you pay for equipment, but you never know what price you're going to get at market when the season is over.
He has to be a fortune reader. Every year, there are new signs to watch. Prices of Central American cantaloupe, prices of California strawberries, prices of Brazilian citrus.
Then the hurricanes, the construction boom, the snowstorms up North that stop his shipments.
"You got to be an optimist to do this," he says.
Someday he knows he'll have to sell. He knows he's sitting on a gold mine. But he'd rather have the land than the money, he says.
Even when the cantaloupe and strawberry fields are gone, he'll never relinquish the plant nursery he owns. It's where he retires evenings to calm his nerves.
Sometimes he just slips inside its warmth enclosure and prunes the plants.
It relaxes him.
Saundra Amrhein can be reached at 661-2441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified July 21, 2006, 09:13:25]
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