He has received a wealth of recognition, including a 4-H Lifetime Service Award and the Commissioner’s Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award.
He and his wife, Jane, still live on the ranch. They have three grown children and four grandchildren.
When he took over as manager of the Orlando-based Florida Tomato Committee, Wayne Hawkins was disappointed with the meager attendance at the organization’s annual meeting at a midrange hotel in Belle Glade. He thought a more prestigious venue might attract more growers, so he moved the gathering, eventually ending up at the event’s current location, the Ritz Carlton in Naples.
Attendance rose from 30 or 40 to as many as 350. He created a convention-type atmosphere where growers were able to get to know each other. They discovered they had the same problems, Hawkins says, and they started working together to solve them.
Hawkins, an Orlando resident who has been called “the father of the modern agricultural cooperative exchange,” is responsible for organizing the Florida Sweet Corn Exchange, the South Florida Vegetable Exchange, the Zellwood Sweet Corn Exchange, the Leaf and Radish Exchange and the North Florida Vegetable Growers Exchange. His only reward for those efforts was the satisfaction he received knowing he was helping growers become more efficient and make a better living.
Born in 1932 in Oakland Park, Hawkins served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. During his junior year at the University of Florida, he was a college dealer for an aluminum cookware company, where he managed 40 people. After graduating with a degree in agricultural economics, he worked as manager of production and marketing for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association before taking the reins of the Florida Tomato Committee in 1974.
“During his 25-year tenure, he helped guide the Florida tomato industry through a time of extreme transition driven by intense foreign competition and unprecedented domestic consolidation,” according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
During many trips to Washington, D.C., Hawkins spoke out in favor of fair trade and against “burdensome government regulations on farmers.”
He worked with youth groups and persuaded the Florida Tomato Exchange to establish a scholarship fund for children of migrant farm workers. When he retired in 1999, he established the Wayne Hawkins Agricultural Scholarship Fund at the University of Florida for students majoring in food and resource economics.