FLORIDA MASTER GARDENER VOLUNTEERS’ EXPLORATION OF FOOD SYSTEMS IN SOUTHERN ITALY PRODUCES STATEWIDE IMPACT
T. Freeman, UF/IFAS Extension St. Johns County, St. Augustine, FL
W. Wilber, UF/IFAS Extension, Center for Land Use Efficiency, Gainesville, FL
Situation: An important aspect of supporting Florida’s agricultural industry is creating awareness and appreciation of food systems among citizens. Studying food systems internationally provides a unique opportunity to learn new information that Extension agents and Master Gardener Volunteers (MGV’s) can share with clientele to support UF/IFAS Extension High-Priority Initiative 1 (cultivate citizen awareness of food systems and sustainability of production systems and alternatives).
Objective: To provide an international food systems educational opportunity for Florida MGV’s, where participants increase their knowledge of agritourism, fruit production, and alternative fruit crop selection for Florida.
Methods: Explore and study food systems in Southern Italy, including agricultural enterprises in pomegranate, lemon, apple, olive and wine production; botanical gardens and other edible landscapes. Other areas of concentration included sustainability, cultural methods, and integrated pest management.
Results: On-site focus group revealed an increase in knowledge and awareness of sustainable agricultural practices. Of the 31 MGV’s who participated in the Food Systems Tour of Southern Italy, 74% (N= 23) responded to a 2 month post-trip survey, revealing an average increase of horticultural knowledge between 68%-88%, depending on the site visit. 100% of the 20 who responded to a 5 month post-trip survey, shared information they learned with others, including other MGV’s, community members, friends, family and extension clientele. They reported sharing information about crops, sustainable horticulture practices, agrotourism, Mediterranean diet and food preparation, wine, and alternative crop techniques via workshops, videos, extension publications, PowerPoints, consultations, plant clinics, phone desk, and planting crops studied on tour. 50% of participants reported an increase in their local food purchasing practices.
Conclusion: MGV’s shared their gained knowledge with Floridians throughout the state. Sharing their global experiences with fellow volunteers and clientele can help disseminate information to bring more awareness of food systems, agrotourism, and potential for alternative fruit crop selection in Florida.