New director takes lifetime work in Ag, 4-H to the next level at UF/IFAS Extension Highlands County
- The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) welcomes Ashley Houpe-King Gill as its new director of UF/IFAS Extension Highlands County.
- With an extensive background in 4-H, agriculture, human services, marriage and family counseling, Gill will lead a team of agents in a diverse county with more than 108,000 residents.
- Highlands County enjoys a diverse rural and urban environment. Gill’s plans are to enhance the presence of Extension by fostering relationships across communities, support agritourism and address the needs of its residents and visitors.
HIGHLANDS COUNTY, Fla. — Ashley Houpe-King Gill grew up in agriculture in Highlands County not knowing she also had a passion for Extension work because she had an abundance of skill sets that ranged from wanting to work with youth and families to working in agriculture.
That set the foundation for her new position as director of UF/IFAS Extension Highlands County.
“I come from a family deeply rooted in agriculture and I carry that passion with me in everything I do,” said Gill. “I spent many hours gaining hands-on experience working for my father’s (Robert King) farm equipment business and managing the family cattle ranch.
Her late grandfather, Horace King, was a grove and nursery owner who shared his love for citrus with Gill, teaching her how to care for and graft citrus trees.
Her first order of business is to do what she has done successfully throughout her career as a 4-H Agent – build the Extension presence in the community.
“My goal is to develop stronger working relationships with our county government, stakeholders such as the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, Highlands County Soil and Water Conservation District, Farm Bureau, Cattleman’s, Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association, and our advisory boards to better meet the needs of our clients,” said Gill. “I would like to bring back agricultural tours, expand program offerings and seek out ways to support local agritourism efforts.”
Gill’s Extension work dates back from her college days.
When it came time for Gill to graduate from Sebring High School, her passion led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in family, youth and community sciences from UF. While in college, she took on a paid internship from UF/IFAS, an experience that connected her with Extension work.
“It became very clear to me that my heart was in Extension and I decided to return to school to pursue the dream of becoming a 4-H Agent.”
She chose to remain in Gainesville, working for both the UF/IFAS Extension Levy County office as a 4-H Youth Counselor and as a family liaison specialist for the School Board of Alachua County.
Gill accepted a 4-H Agent position in Marion County and graduated with a master’s in human services: marriage and family counseling. In 2017, she returned home and accepted the position as the UF/IFAS Extension Highlands County 4-H agent. She has dedicated 14 years to 4-H, working with the state Department of Juvenile Justice to work with at-risk youth in underserved communities, serving as a safety and shooting sports instructor for shotgun, rifle and archery programs.
She has worked with key stakeholders to increase funding in support of 4-H programs establishing partnerships with the public-school system, the Community Redevelopment Agency and community centers such as the City Life Teen Center and the Tutoring Center to expand program offerings.
In her role, she submitted several grants to generate program funding that was previously non-existent. To date, she has brought in $4.4 million in monetary donations, grant funding and in-kind contributions to support programmatic efforts for 4-H.
Her accomplishments and programs have been recognized nationally. Meanwhile, she makes time to serve on several boards, committees and organizations including National Association of County Agricultural Agents, Epsilon Sigma Phi and the National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals (NAE4-HYDP).
Last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gill was able to host online summer day camp programs that reached youth all around the United States including Puerto Rico. Gill has also conducted other state, national and international work including conducting workshops at 4-H University, taking youth to National 4-H Congress, and participating in a food systems study in Italy.
She serves as the co-chair of the NAE4-HYDP Geospatial Working Group, as well as serve as a member various of the state and regional 4-H advisory committees including, dairy, healthy living, STEM, horse, and Co-chair the State 4-H Environmental Science committee.
“We have a great team of faculty members and staff that are ready to take our programming efforts to the next level,” said Gill.