COMMUNITY SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ROLE OF AGRICULTURE
A SONDEO OF LACROSSE COMMUNITY, FLORIDA
An interdisciplinary study
AGG 5813, FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH AND EXTENSION METHODS
DR. P.E. HILDEBRAND
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I INTRODUCTION --------------------------------------- -- 1
II OBJECTIVES ------------------------------------- -------------- 1
III METHODOLOGY ------------------- ------------------ ------ 1
IV RESULTS OF THE FIELD SONDEO ------------------------------- 2
4-1- Characteristics of the Lacrosse community ------------------------- 2
4-2- Production systems ------------------------------------------------ 2
4-3- Socio-economic and developmental changes ----------------------- 4
4-4- Strategies developed to face the socio-economic and
developmental changes ------------------------------------- ---- 5
V COMPARISON BETWEEN LACROSSE, BROKER AND
WORTHINGTON SPRINGS ------------------------------------- ---- 5
VI CONCLUSIONS AND TENTATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS -------- 8
The Lacrosse area was settled before the civil war. Cotton was the chief crop.
John Eli Futch was a cotton buyer who built a warehouse for cotton to serve
the growers, and his home was near the store. This store became the first post
office and Mrs. Futch named the town Lacrosse. The post office was
established on April 22, 1881, and the town incorporated on December 17,
1897. Before the boll weevil ended the cotton area, Lacrosse had two cotton
gins and grist mills.
Naval stores was also a prominent industry until this activity
ended in the 1940s. The town was a shipping point for potatoes for many years
and had a large cooper' shed which built barrels for shipping the potatoes by
rail from a depot based in Lacrosse. It is still an important farming area
producing different crops, vegetables and livestock.
"Alachua County Historical Commission 1987"
The main objectives of this study are to characterize community sustainability and the role of agriculture in
Lacrosse and in comparison to the neighboring communities of Brooker and Worthington Springs. The
Sondeo focused on:
1- Existing infrastructure, services, businesses (public and private)
2- Farming systems production
3- Socio-economic and environmental changes.
4- Strategies developed in response to the socio-economic and environmental changes
This study was conducted using the "Sondeo" methodology. A sondeo is a rapid data collection technique
for revealing local people's perspectives, desires, and constraints in their livelihood systems. An
interdisciplinary team of researchers and extension agents gather information through informal and
unstructured conversations with members of the community in question. The conversations give researchers
a starting point from which questionnaires and other more pointed research techniques can be developed, based
on actual themes expressed by community members as opposed to the perceptions of "specialists" from the
outside. This sondeo of Lacrosse utilized transects and informal interviews. Before starting the field sondeo,
the team did a review of relevant literature:
a) to understand what was done previously in term of research and extension.
b) to localize the area (maps) in term of accessibility, distance, land ownership, etc.
The research team began with an informal interview with a staff member of the Alachua County Extension
Service, to learn about basic considerations and characteristics of Lacrosse which might facilitate the field
work. The sondeo team then conducted a transect or "windshield survey" drive-through of the Lacrosse area
including the communities of Brooker and Worthington Springs. During the transect, the team noted
infrastructure, businesses, services, and agricultural activities visible from the roads. The team also conducted
a sondeo interview during the transect with a business man in Lacrosse.
In subsequent field visits, interviews were done with farmers, with the staff of different services (public and
private) in town, and with other people met in the area of Lacrosse. The interviews were not structured but
the research team emphasized the themes of sustainability, agriculture, change and community feeling during
the conversations. The process of data collecting was dynamic (after each visit in the area, the team assessed
collected information and reformulated questions to meet their objectives).
The entire sondeo was conducted in four field visits with a team of three people during the first three days and
with four people during the last day (two people from the original team, one from the Brooker team and the
other one from the Worthington Springs team).
Sondeo team members consisted of two male farming systems students, and a female anthropology student.
Informants consisted of: a businessman, an extension agent, a white farmer, a woman at a yard sale, two black
men fixing a truck, three older black farmers, a car dealership employee, the post office mistress, an older black
man- owner of hogs, several employees of a boat manufacturing company, an old black farmer fixing his
tractor, a young black farmer, and a Hare Krishna farmer.
IV- RESULTS OF THE SONDEO FIELD STUDY
4-1 Characteristics of the Lacrosse community.
The town of Lacrosse is located in Alachua county, 12-15 miles North of Gainesville. It is a flat and sandy
area with a humid sub-tropical climate, good soils, high water table, and four seasons. The population of
Lacrosse is estimated between one and two hundred people. The main economic activities in this area are
agriculture and off-farm employment. The town has some public services such as a post office, a fire
department, many (mostly Baptist) churches, and an office of the Alachua County Sheriff. There are some
private businesses including a used car dealer, gas station, convenience food store, boat manufacturer
(Monterey boat), three packing houses (one in Lacrosse and two in Santa Fe, a nearby community), a beauty
shop, Tim Tusing Enterprises, and a night club. Other local enterprises of interest include the Hare Krishna
community farm, a fire tower, the UF dairy station, a roadside produce stand, a sod producer, and a U-pick
Few habitations border the road outside of the town center and most of them are trailer houses. Inside the
town, houses are closer together and vary greatly in type. They are mainly surrounded by woods and small
yards. Farms tend to be situated outside of the town limits.
4-2 Production systems
The first impression of this rural area is that of a combination of managed and unmanaged pine plantations,
agricultural fields, and ponds. The area appears to be covered with trees with occasional pastures, plowed
fields and grasslands. Beyond the screen of trees, a more thorough investigation reveals a dynamic and
complex agricultural system. Vegetables and beef cattle are the primary agricultural industries. Peanuts and
tobacco are grown elsewhere in Alachua County.
There are significant differences among farmers in terms of their motivations, resources and commitments
of the time and energy to agriculture. Few are full-time farmers, dependent on farming for their livelihood.
Many others are part-time farmers who work off the farm, either part-time or full-time in Gainesville or
neighboring towns (banks, groceries, UF, etc..) due to changes in the socio-economic situation of farming.
Lacrosse also hosts a population of professionals who have escaped Gainesville for a rural lifestyle, although
they continue to work in Gainesville. They frequently keep some livestock and do small-scale crop production,
but not for profit.
There are also some lands that are in timber or sometimes in pasture and/or Christmas trees for sale. In
Lacrosse, the size of a "small farm" varies from 15 acres to 100 acres and the "big farms" are from 100 acres
to 300 acres. Some farmers rent additional land to increase their production while the farmers with too much
land and not enough labor will lease out land to make ends meet.
a) cropping systems: Vegetable farming is very important in this area due to the good soils and the
proximity of numerous packing houses and Gainesville. Common vegetables grown are cucumber, squash,
eggplant, okra, bean, and ornamental plants. Also grown are strawberries, blueberries, onions, corn,
watermelon, and potatoes. Some farms are highly specialized in tree production (Christmas trees) or of one
of the vegetable commodities while others diversify to two or three crops at once (beans, squash, etc.). Some
small farms are also specialized in hay production to make a living. The seasonal periods of vegetable
production are fall and summer. There is a high demand for labor for harvesting and packing at these times.
Several of the farmers we talked with grow two crops of vegetables per year on the same land.
Small farmers' major constraints seem to be in marketing and labor. In marketing, they have to compete with
large producers who are able to market in volume. Small producers have a harder time selling their small
quantities. The R.G. Thomas Packing House in Lacrosse is privately owned. It grows much of its own
produce but also buys from local farmers. In neighboring Santa Fe there is a packing house which is a
cooperative. None of the farmers we talked with were members of the cooperative because of the steep
membership price. Farming in Lacrosse follows the national decline in family and small-scale farms. The
farmers we spoke to were working their land all by themselves with no or little family assistance because other
family members worked off-farm or because siblings and children had chosen not to be farmers. Most of the
farmers we spoke with hired temporary labor, and had other coping strategies to deal with their lack of labor
like renting off some of their land or planting only beans which are easy for one person to handle, or move
toward organic produce which sells for a higher profit.
b) livestock systems: The livestock most commonly observed in Lacrosse are beef cattle and horses.
Several farms advertise that they board horses. Hogs are uncommon according to the extension agent. We
found one Lacrosse resident who had a lot of hogs, but we didn't see any others. Livestock activities are
generally conducted by large farmers who have sufficient resources to diversify their activities. Some farms
are mixed farms with crop production and animals. Another scenario is the "ranchette" type homestead, where
people from Gainesville live in Lacrosse to enjoy the rural lifestyle and work in Gainesville. They keep a few
animals and grow on a small scale for recreational/lifestyle reasons, not economic ones. Several of our
informants also mentioned that wealthy people from Gainesville invested in land and livestock in Lacrosse in
order to pay lower taxes.
c) forestry activity: Many logging trucks were observed racing down Rte. 121. There is a lumber
yard south of Lacrosse. Timber production is a long-term investment that takes twenty years before the profit
can be made. Not many farmers are in a position to grow timber commercially. This activity is conducted by
a few farmers who have diversified their activities to increase their income. It seemed as though much of the
land in timber production is owned by the logging companies. Some small-holders grow Christmas trees.
4-3 Socio-Economic and Developmental Changes
a) agriculture: The socio- economic situation in Lacrosse has changed over the years. In the 1800s
and early 1900s, Lacrosse was a major producer of cotton and it was the state potato capitol before a blight
moved potato production to Hastings. Like Brooker, Lacrosse used to produce tung trees for oil-based paint,
but this industry collapsed with the advent of water-based paints. According to the extension agent, there used
to significant corn and soy production in Alachua County, but Florida farmers were unable to compete with
the corn and soy producers of the Midwest. As mentioned above, large farms now dominated the agricultural
market leaving small farmers less competitive. "Big fish eat little fish" is how one farmer explained the change
to us. He resents the domination of the market by large producers. Vegetable farming has become more and
more expensive due to the price of equipment and inputs. It is also a risky enterprise because the marketing
"window" available to these farmers in competition with growers to the north and the south is small and
volatile. One informant told us, and subsequent interviews seemed to confirm, that not many people still make
a living exclusively from farming in Lacrosse.
When the packing houses are busy in summer and fall, there are a lot of migrant workers around working in
the fields and sorting produce in the packing house. One farmer told us that he doesn't care if the migrants
are legalized or not. When his crops need to be harvested and there is a car load of men who need work for
the day, he hires them regardless of their legal status. Several informants mentioned the market "window"
Several farmers had discouraging opinions of the extension service in their area. Their general impression is
that extension agents are there to enforce regulations rather than to help farmers.
b) business: According to the informants, Lacrosse used to have two or three grocery stores,
restaurants, banks, a tractor company, and a trucking businesses. A drive through the center of town reveals
several decaying and abandoned buildings including the remnants of a foundation next to a defunct swing set
and slide. Lacrosse has no school and we do not know if it ever did have one. Gainesville is the main source
of jobs for the people of Lacrosse. One informant mentioned that some people work in the prison system
Despite the depressed economic appearance, Lacrosse actually has a fair number of small businesses: Thomas
Packing House, Tim Tusing Enterprises, a used car dealer, a boat manufacturer, a convenience store, beauty
shop, gas station, and night club. Low taxes and rent and Lacrosse's low public profile are responsible for
attracting some of these businesses to the area. The employees at Monterey Boats implied that one of the
reasons they keep two workshops in Lacrosse is to hide from their competitors. Tim Tusing Enterprises
moved to Lacrosse from Gainesville because the owners realized that they could save money buying the old
train station in Lacrosse as opposed to renting space in Gainesville. An employee at the used car dealership
explained to us that the owner moved his business to Lacrosse to "escape the rat race" in Gainesville and
become his own boss. The business is almost two years old.
c) sense of community: The sondeo team asked repeatedly about the Lacrosse "community" and
answers were varied. For the most part, there does not seem to be a strong emotional attachment to Lacrosse
as a community on the part of its residents. Some farmers who sell to the Thomas packing house meet
informally to organize a staggering of their vegetable production because the packing house could not handle
the volume if the crops were all produced at once. Another occasion when community members get together
is in terms of the volunteer fire department, which trains people in and outside of the town boundaries and
organizes social events like picnics. Since the town is incorporated, there are town committee meetings, which
is another opportunity for members to build community, although we do not know to what extent this happens.
Lacrosse has no school so children must go to Alachua or Brooker.
One long-time Lacrosse farmer told us that older people in Lacrosse maintain a traditional sense of community
in which neighbors look out for each other. They are less friendly, however, with newcomers. Old Lacrosse
farm families find themselves with new neighbors who don't like their pesticide spraying or the sound of their
grain dryer. There is a contrast in lifestyles affecting community cohesion. Many Lacrosse residents have
moved out of Gainesville to enjoy country living and keep animals for recreation.
The Hare Krishna Community Farm is not far from Lacrosse. None of our informants made mention of its
impact on the community and when we asked one person about it, he indicated that relations with the Hare
Krishnas were harmonious. This farmer was even adapting organic farming modeled after the Krishna farms.
Several informants expressed strong disapproval of county and state regulations. Two people specifically
mentioned the wetlands protection measures and others talked about zoning and septic tank regulations. A
low-resource farmer complained about hunting and fishing regulations.
4-4 Strategies developed to face the socio-economic and environmental situation
A summary of some strategies developed by Lacrosse residents to face the changing situation are the
1- New orientation to timber production and trees for sale and to amortize their land.
2- Diversification of crop production (vegetables).
3- Specialization in livestock production and sale of hay.
4- Orientation to organic farming.
5- Rent out part of the land for extra income.
6- Off-farm income (work in Gainesville or in different cities).
7- Development of local businesses.
8- Plant low-labor crops like beans.
9- Reliance upon social and kin networks for financial support
10- Sell own labor to other farmers for income
11- Hire migrant labor
12- Try marketing produce up north.
13- Collect disaster assistance
14- Grow unusual vegetables to fill an untapped market niche
V -COMPARISON BETWEEN LACROSSE, BROKER, AND WORTHINGTON SPRINGS
Although all three communities have people who commute to other towns for work, Lacrosse
probably has the most significant "bedroom community" status due to its proximity to Gainesville. Some
people move to these communities because of the low taxes and their proximity to the "big city."
There is less of a sense of community in Lacrosse. It has no school to rally around like Brooker nor a romantic
history like Worthington Springs. The conflict between the old and new generation seems to be more apparent
in Lacrosse than in the other communities, perhaps because of its proximity to Gainesville.
Lacrosse is the most racially diverse of the three. In Brooker the separation between white and other residents
(black and migrants) is more strongly expressed than in Lacrosse and Worthington Springs.
Lacrosse is the hub of vegetable production for the area due to good soils and the packing houses (although
the presence of packing houses might be a because of the good soils).
All the three communities seem to be adapting to the different socio-economic changes that are taking place
by establishing new forms of local businesses and alternative sources of livelihood.
New local businesses are starting up in all three communities (table 1).
Table 1: Comparison between Lacrosse, Brooker and Worthington Springs.
CHARACTERISTICS LACROSSE BROKER WORTHINGTON
1-Infrastructure, Post Office, fire dept., School, post office, Post Office, churches
services, and businesses churches, car dealer, gas churches, community center, civic
station, food store, manufactured homes center, gas station,
packing houses, beauty for sale, fire station, grocery store, video
parlor, boat manufacturer, community center, store, trucking co.,
night farm boards, lumber yard, recycling
club. recycling center, center, tennis club, feed
riding club, grocery store.
2- Production systems vegetables (cucumber, vegetable production tobacco, corn
- Crop production squash, bean, eggplants, (poor soils); dairy (Poor soils); cattle
grass corn, watermelon, and beef cattle; production; tree
potatoes, berries) beef farms. farming.
-Livestock product, cattle, horses, some hogs,
-Forestry activity timber production.
3- Sizes of farms
- Small farms 15 100 acres There exist small and There exist small and
- Big farms 100 300 acres big farms. big farms
4- Socio-economic Lack ofjob opportunities; Job opportunities Limited job
changes Important migration of limited; Decrease of opportunities; Decrease
young people to local businesses; of local businesses; Low
Gainesville and other Low taxes; Increase rural taxes; New
cities; Problems of of new migrants. migrants; Decrease of
marketing; Lack of small farms.
resources for small
farmers; Lack of school;
Low taxes (increases the
rate of in-migration)
Problems of subsistence
of small farms due to
their low resources and
the competition of the big
farms; and government
5- Strategies developed Diversification of crop Rent part of land; Rent land; Off-farm
to face the socio-cultural production; Off-farm work work (Gainesville or
changes Specialization in cash (Gainesville or prison);
crops; Timber prison); Development Development of local
production; Rent part of of local businesses. businesses.
land; Off-farm work to
make living; Organic
______________ farming. ______________
Low sense of community; High sense of High sense of
6- Sense of community Volunteer work done by community; One community; People very
the fire Department; housing development; related. Community
Good neighborhood (safe Safe and secure area. center; Dynamic town;
and tranquility); Safe and secure; Two
Krishna community's parks; Halloween
organic farming. festivals; Arts and crafts
VI -CONCLUSIONS AND TENTATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
Vegetable production remains an important activity in Lacrosse, mainly due to good soil conditions
and the proximity of packing houses. On the other hand, vegetables growers are constrained by the increasing
cost of inputs and by consistent changes in the marketing of their products. Low resource farmers can't
compete against big land owners. In general farming in Lacrosse follows a national trend: Small farmers have
to sell off land or rent it out and have to work off-farm to make ends meet. Time and labor resources and
access to market seem the limiting factors. Most of those farmers have minimized the labor in their system.
Many people work at Gainesville in different activities. Most of the low resource farmers want to continue to
live on a farm and are developing coping strategies. Many small farms grow or run a few animals to amortize
their farm life by getting an agricultural assessment to lower their taxes. Only some are really interested in
working harder on their farms for immediate income growth (cash crops), and others want long-term systems
to set up their farms as self-sufficient (timber production).
Although Lacrosse has lost some businesses in the past, there are a quiet good number of small businesses.
Some of the businesses are from Gainesville and are of the nature that they do not contribute to the economy
of Lacrosse. Lacrosse just serves as the location of the business activities without benefitting from the
businesses presence beyond taxes and rent.
Lacrosse has a diverse population, a mix of people who have been farming for a long time and new comers
who seek a rural lifestyle and dabble in farming but earn their real income elsewhere. Migrant workers are an
important source of labor during the harvesting time.
To better understand the role of agriculture and community sustainability in Lacrosse, further research
can be done based on the initial findings of the sondeo. A formal survey could be conducted based on the
different categories of farmers in Lacrosse and the different livelihood systems (crop-centered farms, livestock-
centered farms and mixed farms) to understand the determining factors which characterize the stability, risk,
sustainability of each system in terms of land utilization, time and resources, production strategies and
orientation (growth of the farm, stability, income, subsistence, etc..) and their involvement with the Lacrosse
community in terms of their attitudes toward each other. Based on the findings of that study and a survey of
constraints and needs, recommendations can be made about extension and development activities in the area.
1- Alachua County, 1986. Florida. Plat Directory. Florida Plats Clermont, Florida.
2- Hansen, Art, 1981. Farming Systems of Alachua County, Florida: An Overview with Special
Attention to Low Resource Farmers and Rural Development. University of Florida.
3- Hildebrand, P.E, 1981. Combining Disciplines in Rapid Appraisal: The Sondeo Approach. In Agricultural
4- State of Florida, Department of Transportation maps and publication, 1989. General Highway Map. Alachua
County, Florida. Tallahassee, Florida.