ESTERO, Fla. — The orange trees in the Corkscrew grove still produce fruit, though not nearly as much as they did just a decade ago. Thanks to hurricanes and pathogens, many are damaged and dying. Branches are spindly, leaves curled and yellowing.
“There was a time not too long ago that these trees were so full and green, you could hardly see through them,” Michael Sparks tells Nikki Fried, the state’s agriculture commissioner, as they survey the damage under a blazing hot sun.
When Sparks looks at the stressed grove, he sees an industry fighting for survival. Yet Fried sees something else: opportunity. And not just here but across Florida, wherever nature and disease have taken a serious toll on crops and commodities.
Her solution is hemp. “Hemp can help,” Fried says.
In a state inextricably linked to the orange — the fruit that adorns its license plates and the juice that it offers visitors at welcome centers — such prophecy might once have been considered heresy. But Fried won office last year partly because of her pro-pot campaign. Touting the benefits of hemp and marijuana for personal health as well as Florida’s economy, the lawyer-lobbyist narrowly defeated a seventh-generation farmer and became the first elected female commissioner of agriculture and consumer services since Florida became a state in 1845. [Read More @ The Washington Post]