The state of Florida comprises nearly 21 million residents, with that number increasing by 1,000 every day. Anyone driving one of our state’s north and south or east and west main highways has experienced the increased traffic and constant movement of people coming and going. No longer are there any long stretches of undeveloped land as far as you could see, as our cities and metropolitan areas seem to easily transition from one to the next.
But this is most surprising on our interior highways. Driving south on Highway 27 used to be a drive among acres and acres of orange groves, with the occasional town providing a rest stop or refreshment break. Now, the drive is filled with new housing developments, commercial islands and certainly more traffic.
The point is that the lines between Florida’s rural and urban communities are blurring. One metropolitan area easily spans into another. We now talk about bands of development: Tampa to Orlando, Sarasota to Naples and Port St. Lucie to Miami.
The fact is that our rural and urban communities have more in common than they have differences. Both are populated with families that worry about their children’s education and future career prospects. Both have concerns about access to affordable, nutritious food. And both have too many “food deserts.” Crime and public safety are on the minds of leaders regardless of the zip code. The opioid crisis doesn’t discriminate based on population density.
But our rural and urban communities have one great thing in common: both are served by UF/IFAS Extension faculty and staff. With an office in each of Florida’s 67 counties, UF/IFAS Extension programs transcend the rural or urban description. Some might be surprised that Extension is not just in rural communities that are mostly agriculturally focused. Our mission is to bring science-based knowledge that improves the quality of life for all Floridians. Nowhere does it define – or limit – where that programming takes place. We aim to take the latest knowledge and research out to the public and help them apply it to their businesses, communities and lives.
People who don’t know UF/IFAS Extension may also be surprised that we bring traditional agriculture knowledge and practices to urban communities as well. Agriculture has never discriminated on the type of community where it can prosper. As long as there is someone with the will to make a plant or animal grow with the challenges of Florida’s climate, water, weather and soil, UF/IFAS Extension will be there to support them.
In addition to agriculture, Extension brings programs in youth development, health and nutrition, financial management, community development, marine sciences, and natural resources to communities across the state. Our programs reflect and respond to the needs in that community. We change and grow as the community changes and grows.
UF/IFAS Extension has been serving Florida communities for over 100 years. Rural, urban, suburban, coastal, tropical – however you define your community, UF/IFAS Extension is there to help residents with solutions for a better life.