The Wedgworth Way

By J. Scott Angle

[email protected]


Four years ago was not the right time for Brittany Lee to become president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association. That is until Ryan Atwood convinced her that it’s always the right time to step up and lead.

In addition to his work in support of the Florida blueberry industry, what made Atwood so persuasive was that he and Lee are alumni of the UF/IFASWedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources. The two-year program is a series of multi-day seminars throughout the state examining complex issues in agriculture and natural resources.

The experience makes classmates and fellow alumni lifelong associates and friends. The leadership development program emphasizes the responsibility of graduates to use their newly developed skills and influential network to seek opportunities to serve. Alumni such as Mike Joyner of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association are so devoted to the value of their experience that they speak of the importance of honoring the Wedgworth family name.

Lee had nominated Atwood for Wedgworth. He returned the favor by nominating her for FBGA president. Lee demurred. She’d just become a mother weeks before, and she was dealing with saving her crop from a freeze. 

Atwood invoked the family name.

“That’s not very Wedgworth of you,” he told Lee. The rest is history. Lee served three years as your president and then became the association’s first and only executive director. Atwood succeeded her as president.

Wedgworth alumni include FBGA board member Kyle Straughn and grower Chuck Allison. 

Wedgworth celebrates 30 years of programming this year, and Class XI graduates in July. Applications will open in late spring 2023. For more information about the program, contact Christy Chiarelli at [email protected].

Atwood had been interested in Wedgworth since his days as a UF/IFAS Extension agent because of the learning opportunity it represented.

No one had to push leadership on Atwood. He’s long been active in the association, he went through FFVA’sEmerging Leader Development Program, and he’s been active in his local Farm Bureau. Yet he believes he’s done even more because of his Wedgworth experience.

As Atwood puts it, “If you’re going to take a spot in the program, you have to step up.” He stepped up by joining the St. Johns River Water Management District board to represent agriculture. He also served on the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

Leadership and service costs. Atwood could be busy with paid work during the many hours he spends volunteering on boards and councils. Wedgworth, too, took him away from his family and job.

But he found the program so valuable that he was willing to make yet another sacrifice. He nominated his business partner. Atwood is picking up any slack that results from Michael Hill being away with the current Wedgworth class. 

And Atwood is already thinking ahead about early career H&A Farms employees as Wedgworth candidates. He’s thinking about them, about the industry, about Florida agriculture.

I can’t pay him a higher compliment for his service and sacrifice than this: That’s very Wedgworth of him.

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).
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