Farming in the Glades
World War II provided Ruth Wedgworth with an opportunity to market her winter produce to the troops. She was awarded for the high production of vegetables that allowed her to reduce the family’s debt and build the business. However, her work didn’t stop at the farm. She served her community by being an active player in education, health care, and her church. Ruth Wedgworth raised her three children and brought them into the family business.
During the next decade the Glades farming operation grew with the acquisition of additional acreage and diversifying of crops to mitigate risks. In addition to celery production, the operation included a cattle operation, spawned from a high school 4-H project, and sugarcane production. In 1950, George Herman Wedgworth, her only son returned to the family’s agricultural operation with a degree in agricultural engineering from Michigan State College (now Michigan State University). George’s first task was managing the celery operation. A quick learner and visionary, he quickly realized that there had to be a better way to harvest and pack celery. He stayed up nights at his drafting table drawing the plans for the development of the first mechanical celery harvester. He convinced Vernie Boots with mechanical knowledge to help him build the machine. This keen insight into mechanical harvesting helped innovate the entire Florida farming industry. He also recognized the value of cooperative marketing arrangements and created the Florida Celery Exchange. Over the next ten years, Wedgworth Farms, Inc. grew its land base and gradually moved into sugarcane production. In 1960, while at the helm of Wedgworth Farms, George convinced a group of Glades area vegetable farmers that sugar production was the most viable and stable crop for the future and founded Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. The Cooperative’s primary functions are the harvesting, transporting and processing of the grower-members sugarcane and the marketing of the raw sugar to one of its co-owned American Sugar, Inc. sugar refineries. As George was busy building the Cooperative’s business, he handed off the daily operations of the family farm to a professional management team yet he and his mother remained active in the family businesses.