Ardis Hammock has sugar in her roots.
She grew up in Clewiston, Florida, which is known as “America’s sweetest town,” and after high school she began work on the family sugarcane farm with her husband, Alan. The farm, which was pioneered by Alan’s uncle, Ed Frierson in the 1920s, today consists of 700 acres of sugarcane.
Ardis is proud of what the family has built, but admits it has come with its share of challenges, ranging from stringent U.S. regulatory burdens to stagnant low prices and unfair trade from abroad.
Mexico, for example, has dumped subsidized sugar onto the U.S. market, creating record oversupplies and crushing U.S. prices. In fact, sugar prices are back to the same lows of the 1980s.
“That runs in sharp contrast to the input costs, which keep going up and up and up, squeezing profit margins to nothing,” she added, pointing out the ever-rising cost of fertilizer, labor, equipment and health insurance.
Despite the ups and downs faced by sugar farmers, both of their children, Robert and Sarah, have returned to the Glades. Robert, joined the farm in 2008, and he and his wife Ashley, son Case, and their second child arriving soon hope and pray to be able to sustain this precious way of rural life and their legacy.
Ardis noted that when Robert first saw their tax returns, it was a real wake-up call in terms of the economic situation he was embracing. “Robert looked at me and asked ‘how are you supposed to live off of this?'”
Her answer: constantly improve efficiency, manage your money wisely, look for off-farm income, be patient, and do the best with the cards we’ve been dealt – even if they seem stacked against us in some cases.
Despite it all, Ardis swears she wouldn’t change a thing. “This has been a great place to make a living, raise a family, and make a positive contribution to society,” she said. Her motto has been “Life isn’t a bowl of cherries – it is a bunch of raisins: raisin’ cane, raisin’ kids and raisin’ hope for a better tomorrow.”