Why Even Conservatives Want to Save the Celery Fields

The past seven or eight months have been quite a learning experience for me.

We hadn’t made it far into 2017 when I first heard of the plan to construct what amounts to a dump at the Celery Fields in Sarasota.

Now I am not what you would call an “activist.” Prior to 2017, you could count one hand the number of times you’d have spotted me holding a sign in a crowd. Some people enjoy it and would find a reason to do it every week if they could. I just don’t happen to be one of them.

Nor am I what you would call an “environmentalist.” This issue has become one of the growing number of issues for which I consider both sides of the argument to be less than honest and certainly not aboveboard.

Nor am I someone who believes in giving government even more control over our private lives. I regard the increasing incursion of the State into our individual liberties as a dangerous menace—one that was foreseen by the Founders and Framers, whose counsel on the issue we ignore to our own peril.

In other words, I’m not what you would call a “liberal,” at least not according to any modern definition of the word.

And yet, in 2017, I’ve signed petitions, gone to rallies, attended public hearings, and spoken out in a number of ways to ask Sarasota County to deny petitions to build on Celery Fields lands.

Knowing this, many casual observers might assume that they could accurately guess my political leanings.

And yet, over the last number of months, I’ve worked alongside card-carrying members of both of the major political parties, and many others who are harder to classify, politically speaking. Lifelong Republicans, tree-hugging environmentalist Democrats, frustrated independents, and members of other parties have aligned themselves to oppose these projects, most notably the one proposed by local developer turned public official, James Gabbert.

And this is how I have learned so much this year. Never before have I seen so many people willing to lay aside their cherished ideologies and work together with people who, in other circumstances, they’d probably vehemently oppose.

There’s an old saying about nothing being stronger than the heart of a volunteer, and that is what I’ve observed—and been humbled by—throughout this process.

I’ve watched people give up hundreds of hours of their time, sacrifice business opportunities, and risk embarrassment (or worse) to protect the Celery Fields. Business owners, former journalists, retirees, birders and wildlife enthusiasts of all ages, and—yes—people whose interest in activism has risen to levels deserving of the word, “professional,” have linked up with one another in a shocking display of heart.


It can only be because they care.

They care about beauty. They care about nature. They care about what sort of society we are creating. They care about what we do with Publicly-owned land. They care about our water supply and the health of estuaries and aquatic wildlife. They care about the birds and the beautiful habitat that’s been created over the last twenty-plus years, by accident or not. They care about preserving the peaceful serenity of the Palmer corridor, which only looks “industrial” on maps created during the Reagan Administration. They care about the two thousand homes—soon to exceed 2,600 with new developments going in—and the neighborhoods that have grown up around them. They care about Tatum Ridge Elementary School and the 700 students, not to mention the hardworking faculty and staff, just down the street.

And it’s been my honor to work alongside such caring people. Maybe in other circumstances and on other questions, the things we care about would find us disagreeing.

But after months of working alongside people of this quality, I must say I’m more inclined than ever to really listen and to try to understand where they’re coming from and to see if perhaps there aren’t better ways to solve our problems than the bitter public thrashings that seem to be the order of the day.

In other words, I care too—about the Celery Fields, sure—but more importantly, about the people I’ve come to know through this unique experience.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear from the County Commissioners. That means today we’re all busy making our final preparations. Regardless of the outcome, I want all of you to know how much I have grown to deeply respect and appreciate you. Thank you for the honor of working with you.

9 Replies to “Why Even Conservatives Want to Save the Celery Fields”

  1. Peter B. Gemma – Florida – Peter B. Gemma, an award-winning freelance writer, has been published in a variety of venues including: USA Today (where more than 100 of his commentaries have appeared); Military History; The Daily Caller; The Washington Examiner; American Thinker; The Economic Populist; and The Independent Political Report.
    Peter B. Gemma says:

    Earth-based Conservatives are best known as Crunchy-Cons, a moniker from author Rod Dreher’s book by the same name.We call greed to account, are sceptical of big business as we are of big government, and all our hopes for any economic system should be rooted in humility and restraint.

    1. David G. Johnson
      David G. Johnson says:

      Brilliant! Now I’ve got another book to read. Thanks, Peter!

  2. Love your perspective, your honesty, and your willingness to stand up with great integrity. Am very very proud to say you’re my son!!

    1. David G. Johnson
      David G. Johnson says:

      Thanks, Mom! I’m proud to say you’re my Mom!

  3. David G. Johnson
    David G. Johnson says:

    Fascinatingly, Matt Walsh, Editor & CEO of the conservative-leaning, pro-business Observer Group, opined that this location is “not suited for a dump.” What’s even more interesting is that he based his opinion on the mistaken belief that Mr. Gabbert already owns all 16 acres of the subject land, when in fact the County owns the largest (10+ acre) parcel and Mr. Gabbert is under contract to purchase the land contingent upon approval of this project. This makes Mr. Walsh’s opinion that much more compelling!

  4. I agree with David on his view. From the surface we tend to label and apply tags without really knowing ones true ideology. This issue is a prime example of non partisan politics, because it is in essence a political issue disguised as an environmental one. You can be political and still remain non partisan. Our group SUFBSRQ is just that, we tackle issues, not political parties or politicians. As the researchers dug into the multilayered tiers of development in Sarasota county, it became crystal clear there were a lot politics involved. We will spend the entire day tomorrow, Aug 23 giving testimonials to the BOCC and they will be making a decision that will greatly alter and steer all uses of future county surplus lands and open green spaces. I am confident that a “Common sense” victory is going to be rendered.

  5. Gary Walsh says:

    Great analysis
    Glad my words last night hit you like I have been telling my church members.

    1. David G. Johnson
      David G. Johnson says:

      Thanks, Gary. I appreciate you giving me the word, “care,” to work with. It is the perfect word to describe what’s been demonstrated throughout this process!

  6. Paula Berk says:

    I am honored to have met you and learned so much. Way out of my league, but wasnt going to let that stop me.

    David, You are a great speaker, and I think that some of this should be said tomorrow, yes I do. Especially the word “CARE”.

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