GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Doug Mayo must feel like his cellphone is permanently attached to his ear. For two weeks, Mayo has been taking and making calls, and helping people, mostly farmers, in Jackson County, get back on their feet as they recover from Hurricane Michael.
In his neck of the woods, Mayo, director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Jackson County, has seen some of the worst devastation in the Panhandle. At first, roads were impassable, trees and fences were down and cattle were running free. Some fences are still down, but crews are trying their best to repair those, Mayo said.
Since that first morning after the storm hit — when he and everyone else was in self-survival mode — Mayo has spent most of his time checking on farmers to see what their immediate needs were for assistance, coordinating delivery of supplies to a distribution point or connecting Florida Cattlemen’s Association volunteers that have come in with farmers needing help patching fences along highways.
“It’s been a lot of juggling and a lot of phone time,” he said. The day after the hurricane hit, Mayo said, “I just started calling and checking on people. Cutting trees to get out of our little street. Then I went to the office and got a chainsaw so they could get out of their house. They all had to cut their way out of their street. Cattle producers were overwhelmed.”
Some still are, Mayo said.
Several Panhandle counties are facing similar circumstances to that found in Jackson County, said Judy Biss, director of UF/IFAS Extension Calhoun County.
Like Mayo, Biss works with Angie Lindsey, a UF/IFAS assistant professor in family, youth and community sciences and the UF/IFAS liaison with the Florida State Agricultural Response Team (SART).
Lindsey has been working with others to create a database of producers who have needs, whether that’s food, water, fencing or other supplies.
“Everybody’s been helping everyone,” Biss said. “It’s really hard to put into words. Everyone comes in every day and does his or her work so cheerfully, even though each day brings a different challenge.”
That means farmers still need supplies. If you want to help Panhandle growers and ranchers, SART wants to hear from you. If you’d like to help, go to the SART website or call 904-252-9952.
The UF/IFAS Extension team works with county emergency operations centers statewide to help get supplies to those in need, Lindsey said. SART is part of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and, in emergencies, the agency asks Lindsey and others for people from their organizations who can coordinate donations and deliveries of supplies and meet needs that have arisen due to the storm.
UF/IFAS Extension faculty throughout the Panhandle are working with SART to get food, feed, water, fencing material – whatever supplies are necessary – to people in hard-hit counties, Lindsey said. Most of those counties are small and rural. They also need help in Bay and Gulf counties, Lindsey said.
U/IFAS Extension faculty have identified people who can donate fencing and those who need it, she said. Then, Extension faculty help deliver and put fencing back up.
“They are very focused on addressing the needs within the areas, especially within the some of the rural areas, like Washington, Jackson, Calhoun and Liberty,” Lindsey said of the UF/IFAS Extension efforts to this point. “They’re great boots on the ground. Several of our offices are serving as distribution and disaster recovery centers.”
Staff from FDACS and UF/IFAS take donations at established areas throughout the impacted counties. These areas also serve as distribution points where those in need can come and pick up supplies, Lindsey said.
By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.