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Griner gears up for yet another agricultural distinction

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By Mark Scohier

Some say it can be difficult maintaining balance in today’s world, a place where perspectives on life have become ever more polarizing and where, more and more, ways of living have come into conflict with each other.

Few understand this more than 57-year-old Chiefland native Lynetta Usher Griner, who has, for much of her life, been working toward a balance between such things as farming, economics and environmental conservation, not to mention a dedication to family and community.

“I’m busy, but I know my limits,” Griner said last week from the office she shares with husband Ken at Usher Land and Timber. The two, married for 34 years, took the reins on the family timber business in the early 1990s, forging it into a business praised for its balance of stewardship, good business practices and involvement in the community.

The company, which delivers about 200 loads of wood products per week throughout the state, has been recognized as “Logger of the Year” three times – at state, regional and national levels. The title is given to timber businesses that practice environmentally friendly best management practices (BMPs), good business ethics, innovation and safety. 

Last year, Usher Land and Timber was honored by the Suwannee River Partnership as a CARES farm. The designation is given to farms in the region for agricultural practices that aim to cut down on the amount of nitrates that make their way into rivers and ground water. The company has also received the Audubon Sustainable Forestry Award.

“I think that’s important because we have to be stewards of the resources we utilize in our business,” she said, explaining that timber farming is one of the least-taxing forms of agriculture on resources. Griner, who has, since 2008, served as an appointee to the Acquisition and Restoration Council that oversees administration of the Florida Forever program and who was once president of Friends of Fanning [Springs] Inc., said established trees require almost no insecticides, fertilizers or irrigation. 

And then there’s the benefit forests provide to wildlife or in producing clean, breathable air, as well as the valuable resource that gives the world paper, lumber and even cellulose computer screens.

Griner is being officially recognized as State Agriculture Woman of the Year at a luncheon in Tampa Monday. It’s a personal distinction she can add to a long list of awards, involvements, commitments and appointments.

 “I was overwhelmed when the commissioner (Adam Putnam) called to tell me I’d been selected,” she said about first hearing the news several months ago. 

Griner, who was also chosen as the first woman president of the Florida Forestry Association in 2012, said she didn’t feel deserving of her latest title, at first thinking it should go to someone more “imbedded in agriculture.”

“But that’s my heritage, and that’s my legacy,” she said, adding “That (award) kind of validates that I am doing something right.”

It did, however, take some doing to get used to the film crew making a short movie of her in conjunction with her upcoming award presentation, she said, laughing.  The crew followed her around for eight days, but, like so many other things, that was just a lone tree in the busy forest that has become her life.

She said she owes much of her successes to the supportive nature of those who surround her, especially in dealing with issues that sprout up among the community. In addition to some of the other things already mentioned, Griner and her husband are focused on raising funds for organizations like Haven Hospice in Chiefland or through the annual Log-A-Load for Kids campaign and golfing event, which benefits the Children’s Miracle Network at Shands Hospital.

“We have raised an awful lot of money,” she said. “I’m involved in things that matter to me, that mean something.”

But while Griner’s resume may be a public relations dream-come-true, there still remains a need for balance in how many people perceive the type of work her family is involved in, she said.

Even in rural communities such as Chiefland, “there are misconceptions about agriculture,” she said, busily thumbing through a thick red folder full of angry letters from fourth graders a few years back.

Many of the letters condemned the Griners for cutting the timber they grow, insinuating that the act was a heinous violation of Mother Nature. 

And what of “the red –eyed tree frogs?” one of the children wrote, seemingly unaware that those species of frog live in the Amazon Rain Forest, not in Levy County.

But the Griners took it in stride, making a point to go visit the class. They used bundles of pencils, appropriately enough, to help illustrate the economic need for timber.

It was an eye-opener for the children, Ken Griner said, explaining that, by the end, the children had elected to harvest each and every pencil in that make-believe forest.

“A kid said later, ‘I’m sure glad you cut trees,’” he said.

Finding a balance between protecting the environment and supplying the world with the resources it needs is an ever-increasing challenge, Lynetta Griner said, and people’s misconceptions don’t help.

Agriculture, in so many cases, is the reason that many places have been conserved at all, she said.