GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Before, during and after Hurricane Irma, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension faculty and staff worked tirelessly to help Floridians impacted by the storm.
From assessing damage, to rallying volunteers and opening their own doors to people with nowhere else to go, UF/IFAS Extension was a resource to those in need, said Nick Place, dean of UF/IFAS Extension. And with offices in each of Florida’s 67 counties, UF/IFAS Extension is well positioned to assist in an emergency.
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going. As Irma approached, our faculty and staff got going right away — but not out of harm’s way,” Place said. “Many of our UF/IFAS Extension directors and faculty have dual roles with county government and are called on to staff emergency operations centers, work in shelters, answer phones, provide assistance as needed and be ready to assess the damage immediately after the storm passes.”
This assessment role is critical for agricultural producers as they recover from the storm, Place said, in part because the U.S. Department of Agriculture relies on UF/IFAS Extension agents’ reports when directing aid to affected farms.
“The impact of UF/IFAS Extension is being felt throughout the state, and new stories emerge every day,” Place said.
- The UF/IFAS Extension Collier County office was used as a shelter of last resort during the storm and took in so many people that another shelter at a nearby school had to be set up. The office facility was badly damaged — daylight is coming through the roof — and faculty are looking for another location to work from until they can find a permanent home.
- In Pasco County, an estimated 100,000 blueberry bushes at Frogmore Fresh Farm were downed as a result of the hurricane. Tomorrow, Sept. 16, a group of volunteers, including UF/IFAS faculty, CALS students, 4-H youth and local residents, will help replant the bushes in an effort to save them. This effort has been organized by Whitney Elmore, director of UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County, and Kevin Folta, professor and chair of the UF horticultural science department.
- UF/IFAS Extension citrus and horticulture agents are traveling from citrus grove to citrus grove to assess damage to Florida’s citrus industry.
- UF/IFAS Extension Highlands County is still functioning as a special needs shelter for people who need to stay there until it is safe to go home. Highlands County said to be one of the counties hit hardest by the storm.
- Faculty at several south Florida UF/IFAS Extension county offices — St. Lucie, Highlands, Okeechobee counties — coordinated the delivery of food and water to dairy workers who have none of these essentials.
- When an overflow shelter opened up but did not have any food or water, the UF/IFAS Extension Citrus County office stepped up to provide these essentials and get donations from Publix and local producers. They were able to provide food and water for 150 people.
- Colleen Larson, a regional specialized dairy agent with UF/IFAS Extension based in Okeechobee County, worked to get power restored to a 1,600-cow dairy farm, saving the owners from having to use generator power earlier than expected. Power to dairies is critical because cows need to be milked, fed, watered and cared-for on a regular schedule.
- UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County faculty and staff are working to help remove debris from public parks.
- The UF/IFAS Extension St. Johns County office was used as a shelter for nursing home residents.
- Two 4-H youth in Pinellas County set up a neighborhood phone charging station for neighbors who lost power. The youth put out a call on the Facebook page of their homeowners’ association to get the word out. About 30 people have come to charge their devices, and more continue to come.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.