Seeding Success: How Visionary Leadership Inspires Innovation in Agriculture

“Loving kindness is my motivator, and doing the next right thing is the path forward.” Angela TenBroeck’s words resound over our Zoom session and serve as a through line of the conversation from which this article springs. Depending on the hour, Angela’s roles shift dynamically. During our interview, her mayor phone rang – she presides over the town of Marineland – though that isn’t necessarily the reason for today’s feature. Her agricultural work with Worldwide Aquaponics caught the eye of Evolve Magazine. Aquaponics starts with the care of aquatic life, such as fish. This agricultural system uses waste produced by farmed fish to supply nutrients for plants grown in a water-based solution rather than soil. The process in turn purifies the water.

Angela’s work has benefited six northeast Florida counties. It has taken her to far flung destinations, including South Sudan. Her organizations help farmers and underserved communities increase crop yields year round. For those living in food deserts, her initiatives are bringing fresh, quality produce to those in need via WiFi-enabled produce vending machines. When the refrigerated, solar powered machines were piloted, they functioned like Amazon lockers. Patrons pay using tap functionality, and EBT is an acceptable form of payment.

Angela has an impressive array of stats tied to her prolific work. Still, examining how she manages her teams reveals an emotional intelligence that attracts the right kind of talent. Having worked in the Duval County Public School system for 15 years, she understands the psyche of the generation that follows hers. “I used hands-on education as a way to be able to get young people engaged in their own education.” reflects Angela on her early years in education. Thanks to an open-minded principal, she was given room and freedom to blaze uncharted trails.  “We were all non-traditional teachers.” Angela recalls. Whether teaching science in Jacksonville, or facilitating crop growth for use by Putnam County Schools – her impact has been long lasting.  She was the recipient of the Environmental Leadership Award for her work at Twin Lakes Middle School. To this day, some former students have maintained contact with her because of the nurturing environment she fostered in the classroom.

So when taking the lead today as CEO of Worldwide Aquaponics, she brings a style both unfamiliar and effective. “People aren’t used to the owner of a company standing next to them working,” Angela explains. It’s not uncommon for her to have employees accompany her when traveling domestically and internationally. Rather than squelch the creativity and ideas of her staff, Angela – driven by love, encourages outspokenness in the name of modernization. Visitors to her farm will find walls decorated with urban art created by one of her young female employees. “She painted the picture because it is my belief that the future of agriculture is in the hands of brown and black women.” shares Angela.

A career in agriculture came as no coincidence for Angela. Her family owned many acres in Jacksonville, so there are memories of picking citrus fruits, pulling peas and shelling – “just old school Florida stuff,” as Angela puts it. Her upbringing was marked by a fierce inner resilience. Spurred on by loved ones, she was often told that any pursuit was in reach with a little “MacGyvering.” Angela in turn passed this ethos onto future mentees and colleagues. Her great grandfather and grandmother raised her in a way that made her feel worthy. “As a little girl, I would do anything to be near my grandmother and great grandfather,” recalls Angela. So when it came to useful farming skills and tasks, Angela always had an eagerness to acquire new skills that would put her in line to be working alongside family.

In her 50 years, Angela has already lived many lives. Despite all that she has accomplished on the world scene, there is still untapped drive motivating her to continue fostering positive change. “…it is my goal to have a million farmers farming by the time I die,” she told me. It wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise if this came to pass.