6 Questions With Miss Florida Citrus 2020
By Paul Rusnak | August 1, 2020
Just in case you missed it, the 2020 Miss Florida Citrus Pageant successfully carried on its long tradition — but in a whole new way (thanks to COVID-19). The first virtual running of the Miss America preliminary event in the Sunshine State took place via Zoom. Through the unique format, a new titleholder was chosen among a pool of talented contestants to represent Florida’s citrus industry. Meet Leila Sabet, Miss Florida Citrus 2020.
Before the 24-year-old from Ponte Vedra Beach got off and running with her new duties, she took time to answer a few questions.
What inspired you to compete in the Miss Florida Citrus Pageant?
Sabet: Brenda Eubanks Burnette (the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Executive Director and former Florida Citrus Queen) is well known in the Miss Florida organization for making the year of service for her titleholders unique and value-added. She also is invested in her titleholder’s personal success. There is a rich history behind the Miss Florida Citrus Pageant going back to 1924, and I am immensely proud to be part of it.
How do you plan to connect with and represent the citrus industry amid the challenges posed by COVID-19?
Sabet: Fortunately, we have technology to utilize as a resource to connect during these social- distancing times. I had the chance to check out a webinar with the current and past Citrus Achievement Award winners, virtual seminars are coming up, and a Family Fun Shoot has been scheduled for early September. I hope we will return to the industry activities we previously enjoyed. Meanwhile, I plan to visit a few farms that I am familiar with, as well as get creative with educational content on social media. Florida’s Natural Growers CEO Bob Behr mentioned that the years there were federal campaigns promoting oranges, orange juice sales were at their highest. So, my ability to connect to both the citrus industry and the general public through my social media skills allows me to promote the importance of a healthy lifestyle of citrus, fruits, and vegetables.
What’s one thing you’re hoping to accomplish in the next year?
Sabet: I am really excited to be kicking off an Agriculture and Nutrition Education Program to be presented in schools throughout the state. We need to bring agriculture education to schools so future generations can learn the challenges of meeting the world’s food needs and how to become a part of it. If we can create awareness about emerging agriculture technologies that are combining the art and science of farming, we can show young people there is so much more to agriculture than they may think.
What are you most looking forward to learning during your reign?
Sabet: I am an advocate for women’s voices being included in rooms where their voices will have influence because I believe — and research has proven — that diversity is the key to corporate economic sustainability. With only about 14% of the nation’s farmers being women, I want to learn more about the business aspects of agriculture to educate others who may own a unique skill set and have interest, but not have awareness about the industry. Especially with the growing importance of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, the fact that agricultural technology is having quite an impact within the industry, there is now a need for individuals with skill sets that agriculture hasn’t had a need for before.
What is your pageant platform?
Sabet: My platform is Lift & Be Uplifted: Increasing Women’s Influence in the Professional World. I want to make the world better by making workplaces better. Founded on support and empowerment, I have created a community of mentorship by spotlighting successful women of influence to share their stories of resilience and to stand as role models for young women through the Inspiring Women Blog featured on my website (leilasabet.com).
Can you tell us something about yourself that others might not know?
Sabet: I am a first-generation American. My father immigrated to America from Iran. As you can imagine, post 9/11, public perceptions of Middle Eastern people have not always been positive. To challenge this, I want to give assumptions and biases surrounding Middle Eastern people a third dimension, as a form of cultural diplomacy. I plan to perform an act of radical beauty by performing a traditional Persian dance on the Miss Florida stage.