The Wedgworth family’s roots in farming and the related agricultural businesses are both deep and significant. The family’s heritage is steeped in scientific research and innovation that’s being carried out today by third and fourth generation members of the family in its farm and agribusiness operations. In 1930 when the Wedgworth family came to Belle Glade, FL, corporate farming was in its infancy. However, Herman H. Wedgworth’s involvement as the first plant pathologist at the University of Florida’s Everglades Experiment Station located along the southeastern rim of Lake Okeechobee outside of Belle Glade led the way for commercial production to take root.
Wedgworth was tasked with solving an agronomic problem: why were winter vegetable crops not thriving in the rich organic soils of the Glades? He found the answer in his work with Dr. Robert Allison who determined that minor elements such as copper and manganese were missing in the soil profile. By adding these minor elements commercial farming could prosper. Two years later seeing the opportunity in farming the land, Herman set out to acquire land and start his own farm. As a pioneer in the Glades, he tamed the land, built roads, dug canals and drainage ditches and tilled the soil to grow the crops that the Glades are now famous for. Being an enterprising entrepreneur, he opened the Wedgworth Fertilizer Plant, the Wedgworth Supply House and a vegetable packing house in 1932 to provide everything from seed to equipment for local growers.
The Beginning of the Big "W" Brand
Herman Wedgworth’s work at the University of Florida’s Everglades Experiment Station led to the development of custom blending of fertilizer for Glades area farmers as well as the Big W Brand of fertilizer. This enterprise started in his barn in the back yard of the original farm where he custom mixed fertilizer with minor elements in a wheel barrel and a shovel. The demand grew for his product, and this new business filled a vacuum in the marketplace.
By the mid-1930s, Wedgworth Inc.’s fertilizer plant was built in the heart of Belle Glade. He sourced his raw materials and became the primary supplier of agri-nutrients for the blossoming Glades area farming industry. By 1976, the plant was blending 30,000 tons of products per year. Today, the Big W Brand Fertilizer has grown seven-fold to 200,000 tons per year and is a staple among farmers throughout Florida.
By 1938, the Wedgworth family were growing a variety of winter vegetables, mostly celery, on almost 2,000 acres, shipping nearly half a million packages to market each year. With Ruth working beside her husband in most phases of the agricultural operation, the couple was reaping the benefits of six years of struggle and hard work when tragedy struck. Herman Wedgworth was fatally injured in an accident while hoisting a ten-ton ice machine to the top of the new ice storage building at the packing house. Bravely looking to the future, Mrs. Ruth Springer Wedgworth carried on devoting her life to her three children and the unfinished work of running the farm and related businesses. She overcame great financial difficulties and the many vagaries of weather with the help of her loyal workers and toiled through the tough times to become a successful farmer and business person.