In 1930 the Wedgworth family came to Belle Glade, where corporate farming was just getting started. Herman Wedgworth was the first plant pathologist at the University of Florida Everglades Environment Station.
Two years later, Herman started his own farm. He then opened the Wedgworth Fertilizer Plant and the Wedgworth Supply House to provide everything from seed to equipment for local growers. By 1938 the Wedgworths were growing sugarcane and vegetables, shipping nearly half a million packages each winter from their 1,750 acres. That year, at the age of 34, Herman Wedgworth died in an accident while building a packinghouse.
His widow, Ruth Springer Wedgworth, was left with three children and considerable debts to pay. By donning boots and joining the workers in the fields, she gained respect in what was then considered a man's world. During World War II, Ruth received numerous awards for the high production of vegetables on the farm. She was able to pay off the family’s debts with the help of advantages created by the war economy.
After graduating in 1950 with an agricultural engineering degree from his parents’ alma mater, Michigan State College, George Herman Wedgworth joined his mother in developing Wedgworth Farms, Inc. into 7,300 acres of sugarcane and 10,500 acres of pasture. George helped to build the first mobile celery-harvesting unit in 1950, but they gradually changed entirely to sugar production after Castro’s takeover of Cuba in 1959.
A year later George founded the Sugarcane Growers Cooperative of Florida. His mother was a charter member of the cooperative, and organized the Florida Celery Exchange. Ruth also served on the Governor's Committee on Migrant Workers and other groups devoted to health, education, and social services. Because of her hard work and innovation, in 1975 Ruth was the first woman to be named Belle Glade’s “Man of the Year.” She was also named “Woman of the Year in Agriculture” by Progressive Farmer magazine and “Woman of the Year in Florida Agriculture” in 1986, and received a Distinguished Service Award from the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. In 1988 Wedgworth was inducted to the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame, two years after she had retired.
Courtesy The Palm Beach Post
Following in his mother’s footsteps, George was inducted to the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1994. Today he oversees the sugar co-op, which was Belle Glade’s largest employer in 2002, while his youngest son, Dennis, manages the farm and Wedgworth’s, Inc., the state’s largest blended fertilizer company.
George and his sisters, Helen and Barbara, donated $1 million to the Everglades Research and Education Center, where their father had worked. A laboratory there was named in honor of their father and mother, the Herman H. and Ruth S. Wedgworth Building.