Whenever someone asks what working in UF/IFAS Extension is like, I tell them that it’s one of the most rewarding and enlightening careers you can possibly have. But a Monday-to-Friday job it’s not. And if you’re married to an Extension agent, chances are you’re watching the kids on Saturday. Because the purpose of Extension is to serve the public, we make ourselves accessible to people when they’ve got the time to work on a problem, learn new things, or seek out answers to their questions. And many times, that means the weekend.
Take a recent weekend, for example. Friday, January 18, was Florida’s Arbor Day. While many people were winding down or packing for the long weekend, Extension agents throughout the state were putting out hundreds of saplings in 3-gallon pots for free tree giveaways, and holding talks about the benefits of urban forests. Master Gardener volunteers conducted demonstrations on how to plant, prune and care for newly planted trees. In Escambia County, agents and volunteers were also judging entries in the Arbor Day mail art contest, which encourages people young and old to think creatively about the beauty and importance of trees in their everyday lives.
Meanwhile, in Pinellas County, urban horticulture agent Theresa Badurek was welcoming a group of 102 arborists and landscape professionals to the Florida Botanical Gardens for the 9th Annual Roots-to-Shoots program. They were there to learn from UF/IFAS faculty like Jason Smith, who taught a class on fungi in the landscape, and Andrew Koeser, who led an identification tour of native Florida trees. Duval County urban forestry agent Larry Figart demonstrated how to prune trees to resist hurricanes, and natural resources agent Lara Milligan joined Theresa to explain how tree canopies reduce pollution and energy consumption in urban areas.
The next morning in Marianna, cattle ranchers from all over the southeastern U.S. were converging on the sale pavilion at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center to bid on bulls during the 14th annual Florida Bull Test Sale. The Bull Test Sale is the culmination of a 112-day test where various breeds of bulls are fed a high-nutrition diet specially designed by UF/IFAS researchers and are monitored for growth, performance and breeding soundness. At the end of the testing period, the bulls are put up for auction. Assistant professor of Animal Sciences Nick DiLorenzo and other Extension faculty helped to organize the event. If you’ve never seen a livestock auction before, it’s quite an experience. Each bull up for sale paces in an enclosure on a stage while the auctioneer reels off rapid-fire asking prices and assistants scan the crowd and shout “YEP!” when a bidder gestures. There’s also a live video feed so that buyers can bid by phone or over the internet.
Far to the south, UF/IFAS Extension Sea Grant agent Shelly Krueger was running a beverage stand and acting as go-between at the 14th annual Florida Keys Seafood Festival in Key West. The fest was started by UF/IFAS Extension Monroe County in 2006 to bolster local fisheries after Hurricane Wilma. Now it’s organized in collaboration with the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association as an event to support sustainable fishing practices. This year about 12,000 people attended the 2-day fest to sample and buy spiny lobster, stone crab, conch fritters and more, with live music, local artwork and booths with information about topics like catch-and-release fishing and reducing invasive lionfish.
On Monday, UF/IFAS Extension offices were closed in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but many faculty, staff, volunteers and 4-H clubs were engaged in service projects throughout the state.
This is just a brief cross-section of the many events where UF/IFAS Extension had a presence last weekend. And it’s not exceptional–every weekend and every weekday throughout all 67 Florida counties, you’ll find Extension agents and volunteers working hard at garden shows, county fairs, food festivals, farmers markets and other places where people want to solve a problem, grow something, eat better or take control of their lives.
To find out about where you’ll find UF/IFAS Extension agents and volunteers working hard next weekend, visit sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu and search under ‘Events’.