In all the traveling I’ve done in my career, I’ve never been greeted with finish-line tape, “Chariots of Fire” playing on a public address system, a 4-H’er hanging a medal around my neck and a state map cake with a different color frosting on every county.
When I joined UF/IFAS in July 2020, I announced my intention to visit Extension offices in all 67 counties. I fulfilled that pledge on April 8 in Lake City by breaking the tape at the Columbia County Extension office.
The celebration organized by County Extension Director Heather Janney prompted me to reflect on all I’d experienced in driving more than 30,000 miles in just 21 months.
I thought about the Ukrainian immigrant who got a new start on life in America in a Pasco County Extension incubator kitchen. It’s where she turned her flair for baking into a thriving dessert business, and I got to taste the results in a blue and orange buttercream cake.
I remembered an old farmer’s tip on how to tell if someone’s home in Madison County: Check to make sure the rocker is facing the street. If it’s turned around and leaning against the wall, its owners are out.
I thought about how Extension staff and volunteers in Monroe County had transformed blight into beauty by turning an unsightly parking lot into a demonstration garden that had become a point of community pride.
In crisscrossing Florida, I’ve been inspired by Extension agents, staff, volunteers, advisory committee members, commissioners, 4-H youth and farmers.
Your career is a journey, too. It’s important to celebrate the milestones. It allows us to step back and reflect on our mission as a group. I recommend cake be part of it, especially if you know a baker like Heather’s. I ate Hendry County, and a mouthful of Glades.
And invite your friends. Florida Association of Counties (FAC) Executive Director Ginger Delegal joined us in Lake City, and she eloquently reminded us of how special Extension is. We meet counties where we find them. We don’t tell them what they need—they tell us.
Delegal highlighted our partnership with FAC in educating county commissioners in governance so they can solve their own problems and identify their own opportunities.
That captures what we do on a communitywide scale in 67 counties.
My journey was never about completing a checklist but to learn firsthand about each county’s challenges and opportunities. And to learn from our Extension team how we tailor our services to those needs. More than anything it reminded me who we work for – every citizen of Florida!
Visiting #67 was not mission accomplished. It was mission acknowledged. I will continue to put in the miles to demonstrate my support for Extension and for the communities we serve.
Please invite me to your ribbon cuttings, awards ceremonies and events that highlight programming. This journey’s not over, and for me return visits to Extension offices are icing on the cake.