This article was written by Florida Turf Digest’s Editor-in-Chief, MJ Plaster.
Florida Turfgrass Association’s (FTGA) Past President Erin Wilder grew up in Monticello, Florida, and is a seventh-generation agricultural family. “As a child, I spent weekends and summers on my grandparents’ farm, pitching in where they would let me. In 1987, my father diversified our row crop and cattle operation, adding sod to our family farm, now known as Boyd Sod Farm in Monticello,” she said.
Today they still manage over 2000 acres, consisting of row crops, sod and timber managed by her uncle. Erin said her parents, Hines and Janegale Boyd, still operate a portion of the farm with her brother, raising Iberian pigs. When Erin was 21, she officially worked at the family sod farm for a time.
Erin’s route to the turfgrass industry wasn’t linear. “I always wanted to work with children, so I studied psychology in college at Florida State University,” she said.
The Long and Winding Road to the Sod Industry
While at the university, she had her first introduction to agriculture on a professional level while working in public relations for the Florida Watermelon Association.
After college, Erin went to Washington, D.C., where she interned for Florida Senator Bill Nelson. Then it was back to Florida to work on her master’s degree; this time, she took a different detour—in the direction of the sod industry. She came full circle, landing at home to work on the family farm in sales and marketing. Erin is a sales and marketing natural, and she found her niche. In the first year, she increased sales by 109%. While she was setting monster sales records, she was also working for the Boys Club and the Girls Club, on alternating days, fulfilling her dream of working with children.
That’s when her uncle asked her to manage the entire sod operation, which she did until she decided at age 24 to spread her wings and strike out on her own. She had decided that she wanted children and would need a life with a little more flexibility and a better work-life balance, but she didn’t want to walk away from sod.
“At the time, I was on the Florida Sod Growers’ Coop Board, and I mentioned to the board members that I was looking to break into the industry outside of the family farm. It was suggested I speak with Tobey Wagner, president of Sod Solutions Inc.” While managing Boyd Sod Farm, Erin had licensed to grow Palmetto® St. Augustine and EMPIRE® Zoysia. Growing proprietary grasses was nothing new to her family; her father was the first to license to grow El Toro Zoysia in the south after its release in 1986.
Erin joined Sod Solutions in 2006. While working there, she became a class VII graduate of the Wedgworth Leadership Program. That’s where you’ll find her today, wearing multiple hats—marketing, education, management, etc.
Erin’s Contributions to FTGA
The year 2003 was a big year for Erin. Fresh out of college, she joined FTGA, took some marketing courses, and went to work full time. Before joining the FTGA board in 2011, Erin ran FTGA’s Young Professionals. At the time, there was a large influx of under-40 members, and Erin was instrumental in integrating those members into the industry and association culture. She served a year as FTGA president, starting in 2013. In addition, she has twice served as guest editor for the fall sod issues of Florida Turf Digest.
While you may think that all of the above contributed to Erin’s career in the turfgrass industry, it did, but there’s a secret to her career launch. Erin’s sod genes run deep. She said, “My great, great uncle, Ed Finlayson, was a county agent and the individual who brought (Pensacola) bahiagrass back to the state of Florida to feed the cattle. This was a big pivot in the bahai world. He was long-time president of Florida Farm Bureau, and during his tenure, the headquarters was built in Gainesville, Florida.
Today, Erin has her hands full professionally and personally. In addition to her career responsibilities, board committees and community involvement, she and her commercial real estate attorney husband, Bedford, are raising two beautiful children, ages 2 and 5. They live in Tallahassee.
The Florida Turfgrass Association (FTGA) is a membership organization that provides strong leadership to the turfgrass industry in Florida. For more information visit www.ftga.org.