IMPROVING AGRICULTURAL LITERACY FOR MORE INFORMED USE OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES K. Stump, J.S. Strickland, B. Justesen, J. Sullivan, and G. Murza, UF/IFAS Extension Osceola County, Kissimmee, FL.
Situation: Although it is a county historically dominated by agriculture, Osceola County is rapidly urbanizing. This growth has led to the development of rural agricultural lands. However, undeveloped agricultural areas contain natural resources, provide habitat for wildlife, and supply humans with countless ecosystem services. With increased agricultural awareness and literacy, community leaders can make more informed decisions regarding county land development and natural resources. Objectives: Participants will have a 50% knowledge gain about agriculture in Osceola County as measured by a retrospective pre-/post-survey. Additionally, 75% of participants will report that this knowledge gain will help them make more informed decisions as a community leader. Methods: In 2017 and 2018, 44 community leaders from various sectors participated in the Leadership Osceola Agribusiness Day program. The program educated leaders about the cattle ranching and agriculture industry in Osceola County. It consisted of a full day of farm and ranch tours, along with presentations led by local agricultural producers and Extension Agents. Throughout the day, their attention was directed to wildlife, water resources, and green space to reinforce that rangeland serves as critical wildlife habitat and provides important ecosystem services. Results: Over the two years, the participants (N=44) had a 109% knowledge gain about agriculture in Osceola County as measured by a retrospective pre-/post-survey. 100% of participants (N=44) reported that the knowledge they gained will help them make more informed decisions as a community leader. Conclusion: Agricultural awareness and literacy have many positive long-term impacts for individuals and the entire community. Exposure to natural areas can better our mental, physical and emotional health. It also increases the non-use value of rural lands, which can lead to more carefully planned development that preserves green space, protects wetlands, and minimizes habitat fragmentation.