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The Battle for Old Florida

The Impacts of Land Development on Ranches and Rural Communities in Pasco County
The+sun+sets+on+another+beautiful+day+in+rural+Pasco+County%2C+Florida
Jacob Valdes
The sun sets on another beautiful day in rural Pasco County, Florida

It should come as no surprise that Florida’s worldrenowned, stunning white sand beaches and lively theme parks have consistently attracted tens of millions of visitors to the state for decades. Now it seems many of those visitors have decided they are here to stay. In recent years, Floridians have witnessed the migration of people in droves to every corner of the Sunshine State, truly showcasing a surge in population growth unlike most, if not all, Florida natives have ever seen. 

In light of this population boom, many of those aforementioned native Floridians now see key components of the Old Florida lifestyle – and really Old Florida as a whole – as endangered and under increased assault. 

Generally speaking, the Old Florida lifestyle is one that revolves around the state’s natural environment and aspects thereof. Although the exact definition of Old Florida is mostly subjective, aspects such as respect for the land, the maintenance of the state’s agricultural sector, and the preservation and teaching of the state’s rich history, are all universally recognized as the foundation for this Old Florida way of life.  

This takes us to Pasco County, Florida, one of the fastest growing counties in the state. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 100,000 residents were added to the population over the course of the last decade – or an average of around 10,000 new additions every year.  

With increased demand for housing as well as commercial centers, like shopping malls, more and more previously undisturbed land in the county is being developed, with no end in sight. Subsequently, this has placed a tremendous strain on not only the land, but local communities and their inhabitants, overwhelmed even by the sheer number of U-Haul trucks on roadways. 

Despite the incursion into this traditional Florida lifestyle, the soul of Old Florida lives on in many places throughout the state. Cypress Creek High School junior, Trey Sasser voiced his opinion on what Old Florida means to him and so many others in the state, the Florida that he has experienced and continues to live in every day.  

“I take pride in being from around here and the lifestyle that we live, and I just don’t want that to be taken away,” said the sixth-generation Florida native. While there is a significant degree of uncertainty about what the future may hold for the Florida that generations of his family have come to know and love, one thing is for certain, Sasser stands ready to advocate on behalf of his home state. 

From its gently rolling hills teeming with grazing cattle and orderly arranged rows of citrus trees, to its alluring, open prairies and swamplands abundant in numerous forms of flora and fauna, the picturesque landscapes in and around Dade City, where Sasser and his family reside, have proven time and again why the mission to preserve one of the last vestiges of Old Florida remains critical. 

Agriculture has always been a key player in the Old Florida lifestyle. It historically served as one of the leading industries in Dade City and its surrounding areas, with that continuing into the modern day. One example of that has been the cultivation of citrus, which has helped to propel the small town into the global spotlight. 

Throughout the mid and into the late 20th century, Pasco Packing Company operated the largest single citrus processing plant in the world (located just north of downtown Dade City), with over 2,000 people having been employed at that facility. 

 While the plant was ultimately shut down in 2004, the realm of citrus still has a firm grasp on the city. The annual Kumquat Festival floods the downtown Dade City streets with thousands of people eager to get their hands on a slice of some oh-so-scrumptious kumquat pie and countless other kumquatinspired comestibles, confections, and beverages. 

The scenes of combines trekking through a seemingly endless sea of grain and livestock meandering through fields of ryegrass effortlessly exemplify the longstanding compact between Florida farmers and ranchers and the land that they maintain. It is this special bond that has enabled generations of Floridians to keep fighting the good fight, and it serves as a testament as to why Pasco County has continued to serve as their humble home. 

On what has drawn thousands of people to Pasco County, it could be the culmination of a variety of factors and Tampa Bay area staples. Its proximity to dozens of beaches and attractions in the greater Tampa Bay Area makes living in the county quite convenient. 

Additionally, the region’s subtropical climate routinely ushers in warmer weather throughout the year (as opposed to states that are all too often inundated with snow and colder temperatures), which many are fond of 

Following the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns in many states, thousands of people packed up their belongings and moved to “greener pastures.or states where precautionary restrictions were not as strict and numerous. After being subjected to months of lockdowns, many found the more relaxed positions on COVID-19 safety measures in other jurisdictions synonymous with freedom to do as one pleased, which they were guaranteed as Americansprovided it all was legal. 

Another major factor is the variance in general population size depending on where one would like to live. Whether you are seeking the rush of a bustling city or a serene, backcountry ranch house with sprawling acreage, there is substantial flexibility in that regard. 

“The population of Central Florida is not too big, but it is also not terribly small. So, I feel like people feel at home and welcome down here.”

Sasser said, regarding what attracts so many people to this region. All these things have certainly facilitated the increased level of mass migration to Florida. Locals realize that population growth is inevitable, while also realizing that channeling and managing that growth in a sustainable manner is imperative. 

No matter the outcome of widespread land development, the implications will be profound.  The importance of the environment to humanity cannot be measured. It stands to reason that the millions of Floridians who love the timelessness of Old Florida will continue to fight the good fight. They will ensure that future generations will get to enjoy the beauty of the Sunshine State for years to come, because you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. 

 

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About the Contributor
Jacob Valdes, Writer/Photographer
Jacob Valdes is a senior at CCHS. Some would say he knows the campus like the back of his hand. He credits being raised on a ranch in rural Pasco county as a multi- generational Floridian for sparking his interest in photography. Having access to a beautiful, natural oasis in his backyard enabled him to view the world from a wider lens. When not in school, Jacob enjoys travelling the country, creating culinary masterpieces, and exploring with his dog Pebbles. After high school, Jacob intends on furthering his stay in Academia by attending Saint Leo University. He plans to pursue a career in politics to protect and maintain the Florida the he knows and loves.

Comments (1)

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    Elizabeth GMar 9, 2024 at 8:39 am

    Appreciate your news article!

    Reply