Sometimes, I worry about Florida.
As a native, certain icons, standards and institutions frame my appreciation for living here. It's difficult to envision Florida without them, but sometimes I get a nagging feeling I'll wake up one day and the things that help define my love of the state will be gone.
I can't imagine a Florida without homegrown oranges and orange juice. From my earliest childhood days — when my mom mixed frozen concentrate and two cans of water in the blender — to now, when I spare no expense to buy the premium stuff in the bottle, I've started most days with a glass of orange juice squeezed from oranges grown just down the road.
However, an insidious plant disease known as citrus greening threatens one of the state's most iconic industries. The state and federal government are pouring money into research for a solution and I hope they find it. Can we still call ourselves Florida without Florida citrus?
I can't imagine a Florida without the flora and fauna, beaches and springs that make it a great place for people who love nature. Admittedly, I'm not Mr. Outdoorsman, but I'll fight to protect the state's environment. The Everglades, beach renourishment and our ailing springs system need greater legislative funding. As someone who grew up going to Wakulla Springs, I know the Sunshine State won't be as sunny if these precious resources continue to suffer.
I can't imagine a Florida without Florida A&M University. My late mother and father spent their lives teaching at the historically black school. While it soldiers on with a new president, longtime supporters always will share a fear that the state will someday try to merge the school with nearby Florida State University. Some may say it will never happen, but a history of tension between the universities and a Legislature that's asserting greater control over higher education does little to ease concerns.
I can't imagine a Florida without Publix. Sure, it may seem folly to link natural resources and education institutions with a grocery store chain — especially when you consider their relatively high prices for premium orange juice — but ask yourself: Is there another retail outlet more Florida than Publix?
A friend of mine who is a military wife has found herself living in varied outposts over the years, including Canada. When she finally got a chance to come back to her native state last week, she made a beeline to Publix — even before heading to the beach. Anyone who moves away develops a greater appreciation for the chain, and those of us who live here make up excuses just to go in and enjoy the bright atmosphere and friendly customer service.
I need an eggplant.
From all accounts, Publix is doing just fine but ever since mighty Walmart got into the grocery business, I've been a little worried. It's almost inconceivable to imagine the chain ever being in trouble, but over the years, we've seen a lot of grocery store chains come and go. Anyone remember A&P? Pantry Pride?
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Finally, I can't imagine a Florida without compassion. Upon meeting my son in Tallahassee, an aide to State House Speaker Will Weatherford said, "Your father never writes anything nice about my boss."
Let me be clear: Weatherford deserves kudos for at least one laudable piece of legislation. He set out this year to pass a law that would grant in-state tuition for immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children. While I greeted the effort with a degree of cynicism, he succeeded, moving Florida in the right direction.
Of course, an undercurrent of intolerance always lurks, but as we wrestle with issues like immigration, let's hope the better Florida — the compassionate Florida — continues to emerge.
That's all I'm saying.