Florida Youth Institute

FYI participants at Florida Field

As 22 high schoolers step onto the manicured turf of Florida Field, Jason Kruse, associate professor of environmental horticulture, explains how maintaining a football field involves more than fertilizer and regular mowing. Rather, he says, it’s research from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences that keeps the field green for fans and safe for athletes.

This lesson is just one of several activities that comprise the Florida Youth Institute (FYI), a week-long summer program sponsored by the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the World Food Prize Foundation.  The program gives rising juniors and seniors a chance to explore emerging issues in agriculture, life sciences and natural resources while also giving them a taste of college life.

“FYI was created with an overall goal of engaging youth with issues in agricultural and natural resource sciences that affect Florida, the U.S. and world food security,” said Elaine Turner, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “Ultimately, we hope to grow the talent pipeline by connecting students to academic programs in CALS that will prepare them for careers in agricultural and natural resource sciences.”

During the week, students meet and interact with researchers at places such as the FDACS Division of Plant Industry, the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, and the Sensory Lab in the UF/IFAS food science and human nutrition department.

Zach Bennett, a student from Polk County, said he was impressed by the faculty and researchers he met. “All the professors and researchers here seem to enjoy teaching youth, and want to help us learn and answer our questions,” he said.

Activities highlight some of the challenges facing not just agriculture but the world population in the decades to come.

“I thought FYI would be an amazing opportunity to explore more of Florida’s agriculture rather than looking at it in a book,” said Roddra Johnson, an attendee from Orange Park, Florida. “With all of the career opportunities presented to us, I want to study agriculture because of its impact on food security. With a world population of 9 billion people by 2050, this is an important issue we need to start solving now.”

For these driven students, FYI can be a ticket to other exciting opportunities.

This year, for example, four FYI participants were selected to attend the Global Youth Institute, a prestigious international conference hosted by the World Food Prize Foundation and held each October in Des Moines, Iowa. During the three-day experience, they will tour cutting edge research facilities, meet with Nobel and World Food Prize Laureates and present their research and recommendations to scientific, humanitarian and agribusiness leaders from 65 countries.

The World Food Prize Foundation also recognized nine FYI students as Borlaug Scholars for their scholarly research and presentation of scientific and policy recommendations to address key global challenges. The recognition is named for Norman Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, father of the Green Revolution and founder of the World Food Prize, who saved more lives than any other person that has ever lived.

“Out of thousands of high school students across the country, the 22 young leaders at the Florida Youth Institute stood out for their incredible enthusiasm and awareness of the issues,” said Keegan Kautzky, director of national education programs for the World Food Prize Foundation.  On the final day of the program, Kautzky announced that all of this year’s participants, upon enrolling in college, would be eligible for the Wallace-Carver Fellowship, a paid college internship supported by the World Food Prize Foundation and the US Department of Agriculture.

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Elaine Turner, 352-392-1963, returner@ufl.edu

Charlotte Emerson, 352-273-3575, cemer@ufl.edu

Keegan Kautzky, 515-343-7162, kkautzky@worldfoodprize.org

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

4-H forestry team in a wooded area
Jeremy Smith (left), Cayla Smith (center) and Henry Keating (right) holding ribbons won at the Florida 4-H state forestry competition.

Jeremy Smith (left), Cayla Smith (center) and Henry Keating (right) holding ribbons won at the Florida 4-H state forestry competition.

Henry Keating, 15, and Cayla and Jeremy Smith, 15 and 17, can tell a fir tree from a spruce — no small feat for three kids who grew up in St. Johns County, Florida, where firs and spruces don’t grow.

As part of the UF/IFAS Extension St. Johns County 4-H forestry team, it’s been several years since these three could walk into a forest and simply see “trees.” Instead, they see features such as leaf shape and branching pattern, clues to the trees’ species. For example, “spruces have rounder needles, while firs have flatter ones,” said Jeremy.

Keating and the Smiths won this year’s Florida 4-H state forestry competition and are now headed to the National 4-H Forestry Invitational in Jackson’s Mill, West Virginia. The competition is set for July 31 to Aug. 4.

The St. Johns team will compete with other 4-H teams from across the country, demonstrating mastery of various skills, such as estimating the amount of timber in a tree and planning the development of forested land. They will also need to identify 81 tree species, including fir and spruce, nearly twice the number of trees they had to know at the state level.

The team started six years ago when Wendy Smith, Cayla and Jeremy’s mother, was searching for a 4-H activity that would get her children outdoors and help them appreciate the natural world. She thought trekking through stands of pine and learning about forest ecology would be a fun way to get some fresh air and learn something along the way.

Wendy’s two older children went to the national competition in 2012 and came in sixth place. Now Cayla and Jeremy are looking to match or surpass their older siblings’ accomplishments.

Keating has been on the team for the last four years, and he enjoys competing against other teams just as much as getting outside. “The thought of winning a national contest is really exciting,” he said. Keating was the highest scoring contestant at the state competition, which earned him a scholarship to attend UF and study forestry.

Wendy said the team wouldn’t have gotten this far without community’s support. Geralyn Sachs, 4-H agent with UF/IFAS Extension St. Johns County, Greg Dunn, county forester, the University of Florida school of forest resources and conservation, and locals in the industry have all contributed to the team’s success, she said.

“4-H is all about developing life skills,” said Sachs, “and gaining mastery in the area of forestry has helped Cayla, Jeremy and Henry practice problem solving, team work, leadership and independence.”

All three team members agreed that one of the most challenging parts of the national competition will be identifying trees that aren’t native to the southeastern U.S. But if asked about anything tropical, they have the advantage. “If we get to identify a cabbage palm, that would make us very excited,” said Jeremy.

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Geralyn Sachs, 904-209-0430, fish12@ufl.edu

Wendy Smith, 904-392-7958, jebandwendy@yahoo.com

Photo courtesy of Wendy Smith

Citizen scientists holding a Burmese python

The toughest part of wrangling a Burmese python is not pinning it down, but getting the entire 7-foot long snake into the cotton snake bag, said Ellen Butler, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Master Naturalist.

“He almost got away from me,” she said. “I frankly can still not believe that I did it. Now when I’m in the field and I come across a snake, I have a lot more confidence.”

Butler is one of several Florida Master Naturalists who learned to catch Burmese pythons to complete their Master Naturalist final project on invasive reptiles. Those who complete this project can become citizen scientists in the Everglades Invasive Reptile and Amphibian Monitoring (EIRAMP) Citizen Science Program.

These citizen scientists help researchers collect data on invasive species in south Florida and educate the public about the issue. Invasive species are animals that are not native to the region and compete with native species, which can throw ecosystems out of balance.

The Burmese python is one such species that’s had a big impact on the Florida Everglades, said Ken Gioeli, natural resources agent for UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County and EIRAMP citizen science facilitator. In addition to pythons, EIRAMP citizen scientists learn the biology of other invasive reptiles, such as tegus, iguanas, rainbow agamas and curlytailed lizards, he said.

“The nice thing about citizen scientists is that they can really expand our reach and our ability to get things done,” Gioeli said. For example, volunteers use a mobile app called IveGot1 to snap a photo of a suspected invasive reptile. These reports get sent to experts like Gioeli who identify the animal and record the GPS location of the sighting.

EIRAMP citizen scientists are also trained to monitor locations on Florida’s Treasure Coast for signs of invasive species. This data gets sent to the “Croc Docs,” a team of researchers at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie, Florida, who enter this information into a database that tracks invasive species in south Florida.

“Monitoring these areas allows us to set a baseline for invasive species in that area and better measure the impact of invasives over time,” Gioeli explained.

Master Naturalists who have gone through the EIRAMP program also work to educate public sector employees, particularly those who work in or near nature areas, about invasive species. “We target these groups because they are the ones most likely to encounter invasives,” Gioeli said. “The goal is to show them how to properly report sightings so that scientists can manage the problem before it explodes.”

So far, the program has given its “Eyes and Ears” training to 900 city and utility employees in the Treasure Coast region. “People are seeing these reptiles, but the key is to report them,” Gioeli said. “If they are not properly reported, the scientists studying the problem don’t know about it.”

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Source: Ken Gioeli, 772-462-1660, ktgioeli@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS Photo

UF/IFAS Hastings Agricultural Extension Center office

Portrait of Gary EnglandGary England has been named director of the UF/IFAS Hastings Agricultural Extension Center in Hastings, Florida. The center is a resource for residents and agricultural producers in northeast Florida, a region known for both potatoes and surging urban development.

“We are extremely pleased to have Gary England serve in this new leadership role at Hastings,” said Nick Place, dean of UF/IFAS Extension. “Gary brings a wealth of experience in agriculture, applied research and farm management. He has outstanding skills and expertise to ensure that we have a strong and impactful program at our Hastings facility that addresses the current and emerging needs of agricultural producers in northeast Florida.”

England, who grew up in Ohio, attended the University of Florida as an undergraduate with the goal of becoming a golf course superintendent. After working in the golf industry, he returned to UF to earn a master’s degree in weed science.

Before becoming director, England worked as a multi-county UF/IFAS Extension agent in both Sumter and Lake Counties, where he specialized in commercial horticulture and fruit crops, respectively. In addition to being UF/IFAS HAEC director, England will also act as a regional specialized agent for the UF/IFAS Extension central district.

England has received several awards from the National Association of County Agricultural Agents as well as numerous honors from state and local organizations.

Earlier in his career working in private industry, England enjoyed working with farmers in the tri-county area. “I was very impressed with the agricultural industry in the area and its importance to the local and regional economy,” he said. “I look forward to working with our excellent group of Extension agents who work with local producers. I’m also looking forward to working with our researchers as they evaluate new cultivars, sustainable production methods, pest management and much more.”

One of England’s goals is to expand the reach of the facility and its faculty. “I want to continue to work with Extension agents and specialists in the tri-county area to present a well-rounded program,” he said. “We will strive to foster collaborations with agents focused on agricultural production and those involved in other disciplines, such as family and consumer sciences, and natural resources, to best serve our clientele.”

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Gary England, 904-692-4944, gke@ufl.edu

Nick Place, 352-392-1761, nplace@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS Photo

Horse standing in a pasture

When Diane Musil put in three acres of grazing pasture for her horses five years ago, she had more grass than she could mow. But over time, weeds began to take over, and bald patches appeared. The pasture was not the lush, green plot it used to be.

Unsure of how to deal with the problem, Musil decided to pull out all the weeds by hand — backbreaking work. “I hand-weeded all three acres,” she said. “It took me six weeks.”

Musil knew she needed expert help, so she signed up for the weed management seminar offered by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension St. Johns County. There she learned how to properly use chemical treatments to target weeds choking out her pasture. This gave her the confidence to buy a sprayer and start applying the treatments herself.

A few weeks later, Tim Wilson, director of UF/IFAS Extension St. Johns County, stopped by to see how her pasture was progressing. Soil samples revealed that the grass was under-fertilized, so he walked Musil through the process of adding nutrients to the soil.

Today, Musil’s pastures are flourishing. “Now I have more grass than I can shake a stick at,” she said. “Tim did a great job helping me. With Extension, I feel like I’m on top of things: I don’t have weeds, I have green grass and I know how to take care of it. I feel more in control and that I’m a good steward of my property. That’s what I always wanted to do.”

“Ms. Musil now has the pasture management knowledge she needs to make sound decisions for her farm,” said Wilson. “She has seen a substantial increase in the amount of food available for her horses.” Wilson recently offered a seminar specifically for horse-owners like her who want to learn how best to take care of their pastures. Nearly 70 people attended. “That’s almost 70 people who won’t be blindly fertilizing,” said Musil.

“We have a wonderful horse community in St. Johns County,” Musil added, and she believes Wilson has done a lot to bring this group together. “The fact that Tim has engaged the community like this is great. And it’s great to meet other horse owners at these events and bounce ideas off each other.”

Keeping her pastures healthy isn’t just about growing plenty of grass for her horses, Musil said. Her home is located in a suburban neighborhood where most homes sit on several acres. These larger lots attract people who keep horses, so well a cared-for paddock increases the property value of her home.

And, of course, a view of horses grazing on a green pasture certainly adds charm. “My neighbors love looking out from their porch and watching our horses,” Musil said.

 

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Dianne Musil, 904-707-6015, sunnyspartans@bellsouth.net

Tim Wilson, 904-209-0430, timwilson@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS Photo by Tim Wilson

Weather camp attendees putting together a miniature hot air balloon

The quietest kid at the Southwest Florida Weather Camp beamed as his miniature hot air balloon rose above the other balloons launched by his fellow campers.

“His balloon went up the highest and went farther than anyone else’s,” said Tish Roland, 4-H agent at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Collier County. “Everyone was running over to him asking him how he did it.”

Over the last two years, Roland has organized the Southwest Florida Weather Camp with the help of Mike Mogil, director of the National Weather Camp Program and experienced meteorologist. “Mike has worked with kids all over the country, but he is from Naples and wanted to have Weather Camp in his own community,” Roland said.

This year’s Weather Camp is set for July 11 through July 15, and goes from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day. Activities will take place at the UF/IFAS Extension Collier County office in Naples, Florida. The registration fee includes lunch and snacks. Go to http://bit.ly/29nJk00 to register.

“The camp is a foundational class that gives youth a basic understanding of how weather works,” Roland explained. “Mike teaches them terminology, takes them through hands-on learning of how weather happens, and then goes outside with them to discuss the weather that day.”

On the last day of the camp, attendees construct miniature hot air balloons out of colorful piece of tissue paper. For many kids, this is the highlight of the week, Roland said. “Even though they’ve learned that hot air rises, I think they doubt it until they see it happen,” she said.

Because the activities are so interactive, the kids don’t realize that they are working on their sciences and math skills, Roland added. “Weather is a topic that people discuss, but not all understand,” she said. “The kids will find out that not all people know what makes weather work, and that they have knowledge that others don’t have. This should give them confidence when they explore other scientific topics.”

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Source: Tish Roland, 239-252-4800, troland@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS photo by Tish Roland

Jars of honey

Have you ever dreamed of selling your own cheese or marketing your grandmother’s jam recipe? Budding entrepreneurs are invited to the first annual Tampa Bay Cottage Industry Expo to hear experts from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and industry professionals present on topics such as food safety, production and marketing.

The expo is set for July 30 at Wiregrass Ranch High School, 2909 Mansfield Boulevard, Wesley Chapel, Florida, and will go from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The goal of the event is to help people tackle the challenges that come with starting a cottage food business, said Whitney Elmore, UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County director. “We want to help people get into the industry while avoiding some of the big mistakes that might be a hindrance to their success,” she said.

Elmore, along with Mary Campbell, UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County director, and Stephen Gran, UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County director, co-organized the event.

The Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services passed a law in 2011 defining a cottage food operation as a business where food products are packaged in a home and sold directly to the consumer. Under the law, only certain foods, such as jam or dried herbs, can be sold as cottage foods.

However, the expo is open to anyone interested in small-scale, local food production where a commodity is processed in a way that adds value to the final product, said Elmore. For example, jam and cheese are “value added” products because value has been added to the raw ingredients — berries and milk — through processing.

UF/IFAS Extension directors saw a need for the expo after Tampa Bay residents began coming to their local UF/IFAS Extension offices seeking advice on local food production. “Many people don’t realize that there are a lot of regulations when it comes to the food industry,” Elmore said. “We have folks who want to start an agritourism business but don’t know that there are regulations, and we have others starting to make jams and jellies who aren’t aware of how to can safely.”

Food safety will be a big theme of the day, which will kick off with a keynote address from Soo Ahn, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition who specializes in food safety and entrepreneurship.

Developing a food safety program should be the number one consideration when starting a food business, said Scott McClure, a research and training specialist with the FDACS division of fruit and vegetables.

“Many buyers will demand a food safety program before they do business with someone, so having one in place is important regardless of how big or small your operation is,” said McClure, who will give a presentation on state fruit and vegetable regulations.

While a successful cottage industry requires more than just creating and selling a great product, many are drawn to the venture. The fact that cottage industry products are locally made is a unique “added value” people are willing to pay for, Elmore said.

“I see the cottage industries across the Tampa Bay area having a tremendous economic impact,” she said. The proliferation of craft breweries in the region is an example of how a cottage industry can really take off and impact a whole community, she added.

For event times and registration, go to http://bit.ly/1ObY1Fb

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Mary Campbell, 727-582-2101, mcampbell@pinellascounty.org

Whitney Elmore, 352-518-0156, wcelmore@ufl.edu

Stephen Gran, 813-744-5519 ext. 54113, grans@ufl.edu

Scott McClure, 863-578-1942, scott.mcclure@freshfromflorida.com

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

Rear view of McCarty Hall D on the University of Florida campus

Brenda Rogers has been named director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension south central rogers smallerdistrict. This district encompasses 11 Florida counties in southwestern Florida, from Pasco County in the north down to Collier County in the south.

Rogers grew up in Manatee County, where her father was a third-generation dairy farmer and she was a member of her local 4-H club. This upbringing instilled a love of the land and the life it represents, she said, and gave her firsthand experience with the region’s people and the challenges they face.

“We are extremely pleased to have Brenda serving as our district Extension director for the south central district,” said Nick Place, dean and director of UF/IFAS Extension. “She has an outstanding background as a former Extension faculty member, county Extension director and former county department director, all highly aligned with this position. Moreover, she has a tremendous view of the many opportunities facing Extension and ideas on how we can best get there. We are very excited to have her as a key member of our statewide leadership team for UF/IFAS Extension.”

Rogers received her bachelor’s degree in home economics from Appalachian State University and her master’s degree in family and consumer sciences from Florida State University. She has received many awards and honors, including, most recently, the National County Government Month award, the Epsilon Sigma Phi Scholarship award and the Manatee County Agriculturalist of the Year award. Her long career in UF/IFAS Extension and local government have given her a passion for connecting with members of the community.

“There are three things throughout my career that I’ve always valued: Getting to meet new people, helping people, and learning something new each day,” Rogers said. “As district Extension director, I have the chance to reengage with agriculture, and use skills in management and administration I’ve developed over the years.”

Rogers is interested in further developing the partnership between UF/IFAS and Bok Tower Gardens. She will also continue to promote the development of emerging crops in the region, which includes many citrus growers.

Her biggest challenge has been managing the diverse program areas within UF/IFAS Extension, which include agriculture, natural resources, 4-H youth development, urban and commercial horticulture, family and consumer sciences, and others. Rogers’ goal is to bring these groups together. “We are focusing on projects as multidisciplinary teams working to solve community problems,” she said. “One of the strengths of Extension programming is to engage in grassroots efforts to build programming based on local needs.”

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Nick Place, 352-392-1761, nplace@ufl.edu

Brenda Rogers, 941-713-0739, bgrogers@ufl.edu

Top: UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

Plants such as bromeliads, pictured here, can catch water in their leaves and become breeding areas for mosquitoes. DeValerio recommends flushing these plants out every two to three days.

During Florida’s wet summers, your backyard or patio area can easily become a breeding area for container mosquitoes, said Jim DeValerio, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension horticulture agent. Though there are no reports that mosquitoes are transmitting the Zika virus in Florida, residents should still take measures to prevent mosquitoes from living and breeding in their home landscapes, he said.

Here are DeValerio’s five tips homeowners can use to reduce mosquitoes on their properties.

  1. Use airy, open landscaping. “Mosquitoes thrive in dense, humid environments,” said DeValerio, so landscapes with plants with heavy foliage growing close together are very attractive. “Thin out bushes and trees so that things don’t get overgrown and become a jungle,” he said.
  2. Flush, drain or cover things that may catch and hold water. While most people know that mosquitoes, such as those that can carry Zika, thrive in standing water, it’s not always easy to identify places where water can collect. For example, plants such as bromeliads can catch water in their leaves and become breeding areas, DeValerio noted. He recommends flushing out plants such as bromeliads every two to three days. Other commonly overlooked containers include holes in trees, dishes under potted plants, bird baths and sagging boat covers.
  3. Be on the lookout for all mosquitoes, not just the species capable of transmitting Zika. “Although Aedes aegypti – the Yellow Fever mosquito – and Aedes albopictus – the Asian tiger mosquito, are a concern, there are other mosquitoes that can be found in containers and can spread diseases, such as West Nile fever and encephalitis, dog heartworms and equine encephalitis” DeValerio said. “It is never a good idea to let a mosquito bite you, no matter what kind it is.”
  4. Prevent rain barrels or cisterns from becoming containers for mosquitoes. “You can put a fiberglass window screen over the opening of a rain barrel or cistern that will prevent adult mosquitoes from laying eggs in the barrel,” DeValerio said. “You can also add mosquito dunks to the water; these are products that contain special bacteria that kill mosquito larvae,” he said. “However, with any product that controls insects, always read and follow the label. It’s the law.”
  5. Make sure that your landscape is well drained. Check that puddles aren’t forming on your landscape, and that drains and gutters aren’t clogged, DeValerio said. It’s also important to keep landscapes generally free of debris, he said, because a fallen leaf can become a container for water.

DeValerio added that it’s a myth that mosquitoes can be 100 percent controlled. “It’s all about management and taking precautions,” he said. “You need to be aware of where mosquitoes can populate and what they can transmit.”

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Source: Jim DeValerio, 904-966-6224, jtd@ufl.edu

Roxanne Connelly, 772-778-7200 ext. 172, crr@ufl.edu

Photo: Plants such as bromeliads, pictured here, can catch water in their leaves and become breeding areas for mosquitoes. DeValerio recommends flushing these plants out every two to three days. UF/IFAS Photo by Phil Lounibos.

Student looking through a microscope

To the naked eye, a spider mite isn’t much to look at, but when a group of second graders huddles around one of Hugh Smith’s microscopes, they see more than just a bug. “They see a tiny monster all blown up,” said Smith, assistant professor of entomology at the University of Florida Institute of Agricultural Sciences.

“They’re fascinated — some think it’s icky or scary, others think it’s cool and beautiful. I’m really interested in getting them to talk to each other about science, and this range of reactions helps me do that,” Smith said.

For several years, Smith and other faculty at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida, have been bringing youth into their laboratories and out into the field hoping to inspire them to consider a career in agricultural sciences. UF/IFAS GCREC hosts several groups of elementary- and middle-school-aged children annually, said Christine Cooley, who coordinates the visits.

On a recent visit, students from R. Bruce Wagner Elementary learned what it means to be a “locavore” by stocking a miniature farmers market with local produce and snacking on watermelon grown at the center. A tractor ride through the facility’s fields taught them about the center’s research mainstays, tomato and strawberry breeding, as well as the emerging crops, such as blueberries and pomegranates, being studied at the center, Cooley said.

“They were very intrigued by the whole notion of DNA and how our bodies are ‘coded’ to present different traits,” said Lois Horn-Diaz, the teacher at R. Bruce Wagner Elementary who accompanied her second graders to the center. “They made the connection between what they learned about how DNA was being used to create a tomato that is resistant to disease and what they had learned about the development of blueberries that are compatible with the Florida climate.”

During strawberry season, Vance Whitaker, associate professor of horticultural sciences at UF/IFAS GCREC, takes groups into the field to learn how strawberries are grown and how they taste freshly picked. Back in his lab, he explains how plant breeding produces the tastes and aromas of the fruit they just sampled.

“I hope they come away with a greater appreciate for strawberries as a crop and the strawberry industry; the effort and complexity of the food production system; and an introductory understanding of the plant breeding process,” Whitaker said.

When visitors come to Smith’s entomology lab, they learn about good bugs and bad bugs, and why studying insects is critical to agriculture. “Most of them are already aware of the importance of pollinators,” Smith said. “I was very impressed at the eloquence with which a second grader described photosynthesis and explained how the sun is the source of energy for all living things. You’d be surprise how much even young children know.”

However, there is always more learn and discover, and it’s the next generation who will be making those discoveries, said Jack Rechcigl, professor of soil and water sciences and director of the UF/IFAS GCREC. “At the center, we try to expose the kids to the different research areas we’re working on and stimulate their interest,” Rechcigl said. “We are trying to educate young people, get them interested in agriculture and hopefully pursue careers in that field.”

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Christine Cooley, 813-634-0000, ccooley@ufl.edu

Jack Rechcigl, 813-633-4111, rechcigl@ufl.edu

Hugh Smith, 813-633-4124, hughasmith@ufl.edu

Vance Whitaker, 813-633-4136, vwhitaker@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS Photo by Trish Todd