DADE CITY, Fla. — More than 200 volunteers from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the community gathered on a hot, windy Saturday to replant thousands of blueberry bushes at Pasco County’s Frogmore Fresh Farm.
By the end of the day, volunteers had replanted 24 acres of blueberry bushes.
“Please make sure to grab plenty of bottled water and sunscreen before you head out to the fields,” UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County director Whitney Elmore instructed volunteers from 4-H, churches, and middle and high schools. “We need to get as much replanting done as we can, but we want you to be safe,” she added, as a sudden gust threatened to snatch the hat off of her head. She was too busy to notice.
“Frogmore Fresh has 125 acres of blueberry bushes that were knocked around by the hurricane, so the help from UF and the community is invaluable,” Elmore said. “We asked for volunteers, and within 30 minutes Kevin Folta, chair of the UF/IFAS horticultural sciences department, called me and said he was bringing students to help. This is truly an example of students, faculty and regular folks stepping up to help a local farmer in need after Hurricane Irma caused so much devastation.”
Cat Cropsey, a junior in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, gathered members of Sigma Alpha, a professional sorority for women in agriculture, and answered Folta’s call on social media to volunteer at the farm. On Saturday, she wiped sweat from her reddened brow, pulled her hat down and reached for a stake to gird up a blueberry bush.
“It’s hard work, but when we heard that the grower needed help, we had to answer the call,” Cropsey said. “One of our pillars in Sigma Alpha sorority is service, and we saw this as a perfect opportunity to learn more about agriculture, get hands-on experience, and most importantly, help a member of the community.”
Cropsey went a step further. She contacted UF senior Virginia Propheter, president of the CALS honor society Alpha Zeta, and asked for more volunteers. “This was a perfect opportunity to venture outside of Gainesville and see first-hand how the storm had affected agriculture,” Propheter said.
UF/IFAS Extension agents were quick to answer the call for help. “One of the excellent places for UF/IFAS Extension to shine is in the wake of a natural disaster like Hurricane Irma,” Folta said. “There is a tremendous strain on resources statewide on many levels. What a great place for the university to step up and show its presence. With a tremendous amount of knowledge and opportunities for students to get involved, it’s a wonderful place for us to step in and get involved.”
Frogmore Fresh Farm employees were overwhelmed by the amount of support coming from the community.
“It’s wonderful that more than 200 people showed up to replant the blueberry bushes. We were really surprised by the outpouring of love and commitment from the community,” said Leonard Park, general manager for Frogmore Fresh Farm. “When the going got tough, people who are still without power, students and faculty who live in Gainesville, kids and families showed up to help. We can’t thank UF/IFAS Extension enough for pulling this together; we are truly touched.”
Click here to see a video about the volunteer effort.
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.