M. Pinkerton, UF/IFAS Extension, Seminole County, Sanford, FL; L. Felter, UF/IFAS Mid Florida Research and Education Center, Apopka, FL; H. Wooten, UF/IFAS Extension Orange County, Orlando, FL; B. Moffis, UF/IFAS Extension Lake County, Tavares, FL; G. Ricketts, UF/IFAS Extension Osceola County, Kissimmee, FL
Situation: During the COVID-19 pandemic, many local horticulture operations saw increased demand for products due to heightened interest in at-home gardening as many people transitioned to working from home. However, statewide shutdowns left horticultural professionals with limited in-person opportunities to learn critical skills and sustainable management practices. The horticulture industry quickly adapted to following COVID-19 precautions, thus it is imperative that educational programming also evolve to ensure stakeholders participate in valuable experiential learning opportunities. Methods: Three classes were held over a month-long period with 19 participants from horticultural operations in Central Florida. Classes were conducted in a large auditorium, an outdoor pavilion and two local nurseries to accommodate social distancing and other CDC guidelines. Instruction included interactive educational lectures, hands-on laboratory activities, and field visits with instructors teaching both in person and virtually. The classes were designed as introductory and interdisciplinary trainings for horticultural professionals on scouting and integrated pest management (IPM) with the goal of increasing economic and environmental sustainability at their horticultural operations. A post-workshop survey was used to assess both perceived and measured knowledge gain, as well as the adoption of various practices learned. Results: In post-workshop evaluations, 92.3% of thirteen survey participants claimed that they increased their knowledge level on one or more topics related to scouting and IPM. On knowledge-based questions, participants answered an average of 79.5% of questions correctly. Moreover, 76.9% of participants indicated on the post-training survey they have already implemented one or more IPM practices in their operations by the end of the third class. Conclusion: The scouting class was successfully adapted to accommodate safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic, while still providing hands-on training to local horticultural professionals. Despite the challenges associated with COVID-19, the classes resulted in knowledge gain and the adoption of sustainable scouting and IPM practices.