Life In The Big Grass

Can you remember a moment when you first tried your hand at that which would later become your career?

For example, I recall one of those moments when I was ten. I was hanging out with a couple of friends when one of them picked up a tape recorder, pressed record, and started talking in a loud radio announcer voice. He made a joke or two, our other friend chimed in with some sound effects and laughter, and I came in and began to laugh and clap and maybe try my hand at a joke that likely fell flat.

We played for hours, recording ourselves doing football games, radio interviews, and other gags. It never dawned on me then that I would end up doing radio for a career. Amy Green sort of has a similar story. It turns out she’s just a natural storyteller and has been since she was very young.

She tells stories, sometimes in written form, but mainly on the radio. And she’s gone from writing about her family vacations to perhaps the biggest story in today’s world, the environment.

Amy Green – It’s a lifelong passion. From the time I was in grade school, I wanted to be a writer. And when I was a little kid, when my family would take trips for vacation, I would come home, make a little book and write a little story about our trip and everything. And I’ve always been a reader. And so, as I got into middle school, I just imagined that journalism would be a way to actually make a living as a writer. 

TRS – When did you become an environmental reporter? 

Amy Green – So I got into environmental journalism a little later in my career. I spent most of my career in print journalism, and I transitioned to radio back in 2011. I started my professional career in Nashville, Tennessee, and I worked at the Associated Press for a few years, and then I freelanced for many years. In Nashville, I specialized in religion and spirituality, which is, you know, a massive part of life in Nashville. It’s the buckle of the Bible Belt. Eventually, I moved back to Florida. When I moved back to Florida in 2006, it was like, man, what happened here? Because the state had experienced this explosive growth in the early 2000s. I grew up in Clearwater, in Sarasota, and when I was a kid, my family had a boat, and all of my parents’ friends had boats. And so, after I moved back to Florida as an adult, I can remember a boating trip out near Crystal River, and the water was just infested with jellyfish to the point where you really couldn’t swim off the back of the boat. So I just kind of started pitching more and more environmental stories. And then, in 2008, I pitched some stories on the Everglades, and I just became hooked on the Everglades. 

TRS – You were in print first, and then you came to radio. Was that an easy transition? Do you prefer one more than the other? 

Amy Green – I’m not bilingual, and I don’t know what that’s like, but I imagine this might be a little like that to a small degree. It’s two very different ways of writing. I’ve been in public radio for ten years, and even now, when I’m first beginning a story and I’m writing out my reporting plan, I’ll do an initial outline as a print story. Then I’ll do the reporting. And then, I’ll do another outline as a radio story. So they are two very different writing styles, but I’m so grateful that this is where I ended up, and journalism is a challenging place.

TRS – Your first book came out last year, about the Everglades and Big Sugar. After publishing the book, have you spoken to any politicians or anybody in the sugar industry?

Amy Green – The book is called Moving Water: The Everglades and Big Sugar. Obviously, during the course of writing that book, I visited the Everglades agricultural area many times and talked with as many farmers as I could, and many of them just asked not to be named in the book. So I respected their wishes. George and Mary Barley are fascinating figures in Florida’s environmental history. Since they’re very controversial figures in Florida’s environmental history, many people just didn’t want to be named in a book about them. 

TRS – Compared to doing a radio story or even a print story, what are the challenges of writing a story in a book form?

Amy Green – It was a lot of work, and it was very stressful. But it was a great experience, and I recommend doing it. 

I met Mary Barley in 2008. Former Governor Charlie Crist announced plans where the state would buy out U.S. Sugar Corps and put that land toward Everglades restoration. And so I did a story on the Everglades Foundation, which was behind that deal, and met Mary Barley that way. A few weeks later, I did a personality profile on Mary for the Christian Science Monitor and just was fascinated by her and fascinated by her story. And I always knew that was a good story. I always knew it was a book. And as you said, a book is a big undertaking. And I had some things going on in my life that made it challenging to dedicate the time to it. My daughter was born, and things like that. It took a while to get an agent and a contract and do the writing. And then, of course, my deadline for my manuscript was the end of the year 2019, and my deadline for edits was March 2020. So my book was going through production at the same time. Our newsroom was very stretched by the pandemic news and everything. 

I took vacation the first week of March 2020 to finish up my edits, and I can remember working on my book and having my computer on in the background and DeSantis doing a news conference where he’s announcing one case in Florida and then the second case in Florida. And so I got my edits done, and I went back to work the second week of March, and that was the last week that we were all in the building together. 

TRS – Well, give us a synopsis. 

Amy Green – So moving water is the story of George and Mary Barley. They are two very well-known influential Everglades advocates. In the early nineties, George Barley was a wealthy real estate investor in central Florida, very politically connected, and he loved to fish in Florida Bay. So as Florida Bay was experiencing severe environmental degradation, he became enraged. He learned how the problems in Florida Bay were connected with problems farther up the peninsula and the Everglades, and it enraged him. George also believed that it was a result of government corruption. He thought that sugar growers, who are part of a vast farming community in the heart of the Everglades in a region called the Everglades Agricultural Area, were not paying their fair share toward Everglades restoration. And so, he was pushing a ballot initiative that would have taxed sugar growers to raise money for restoration. He died very suddenly and very tragically in a plane crash, and at the time of his death, his political stature was probably close to that of the secretary of the interior. And so, after his death, Mary Barley picked up his cause and, in 1996, pushed a ballot initiative that was the most expensive political campaign in 40 years. And today, she is still very engaged and very influential. You might remember that the Everglades Trust gave a critical endorsement to Governor Ron DeSantis in 2018. The Everglades Trust is another organization started by the Barleys’, so moving water is their story. It’s the first book to tell their story, and it also tells the story of how the Everglades restoration got started, kind of in the context of their story.

TRS – Where do you see environmental reporting? Where is it going from here? Where does it need to go for this next generation coming up? 

Amy Green – Climate change. That’s what I’m focusing on now. And lately, I’ve been focusing on clean energy and renewable energy in Florida and water issues in the Everglades. It’s such an integral part of being a Floridian. And so, water issues will always be an important story in Florida. I’m starting to turn my attention to clean energy, renewable energy, and climate change. 

TRS – What does your audience want when it comes to environmental coverage?

Amy Green – Probably one of the biggest stories of the year for me will be just this horrible manatee die-off that we’ve been experiencing in the Indian River Lagoon. And that’s a very complicated situation because the Indian River Lagoon has suffered widespread water quality problems and seagrass losses, leading to the manatees’ starvation. And it’s the other kind of theme to a lot of my reporting in central Florida and across Florida really is this mind-boggling population growth and the strain that is putting on our natural resources here in central Florida. I have been reporting recently on skyrocketing housing costs, and of course, that’s an issue across Florida, and the population is just going to continue to grow. I did a story last week on Split Oak, which you may have heard about, and that is a plan to put a toll road through protected land in central Florida. And many people are worried about that because it’s protected land. Many people feel like, well, if we can put a toll road through protected land, no place is really protected. And that’ll just continue to be an issue that population growth. 

TRS – Having grown up in Florida seeing the damage that’s being done, climate change being the problem that it is, how does that shape you personally, your view of the future? Are you a pessimist, an optimist? Can you stay neutral? 

Amy Green – You have to be an optimist, or else what’s the point of anything? But, the thing that I think about is my daughter. We just had the story last week where State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced new renewable energy goals for the state. And these goals are a result of a petition filed by Florida youths associated with an organization called Our Children’s Trust. And Our Children’s Trust is an organization that specializes in climate change litigation on behalf of young people. I was talking with the attorney about the experience these kids have as a part of this litigation and how the attorneys talk with them about climate change and climate anxiety and all of those kinds of things. And it’s a very different time to be growing up. And I think about that a lot. Yes. 

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Published by Luis Hernandez

I'm blessed. Most of my professional career, almost 20 years, I've spent as a journalist. Some of it was in print, a little in television, but most of it in radio. I've worked with some wonderfully talented producers and directors in those two decades. It would take pages to elaborate on all of the experiences I've had as a reporter, producer and host. Needless to say they include opportunities talking with leaders of state, religious leaders, civic leaders, writers, artists and entertainers. The last couple decades have been a lot of fun. But, the next couple decades will be far better.

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