The New Chomp on the Block

Authored by Amanda Decker 
UF/IFAS Extension Orange County Summer Intern 
Graduating UF CALS December, 2022 
B.S. Plant Science specialization in Plant Breeding and Genetics


Hello! I’m Amanda

Hello! I’m Amanda Decker, I am not a Florida native, but I have spent the majority of my time here and consider this wonderful place my home. I am originally from Missouri, and I have also lived in Washington state and have traveled to Iowa, Oregon, North Carolina, and Italy. I grew up in a homesteading family that was very do-it-yourself. I have always had a deep connection with nature as a lot of my memories are of exploring the natural world; every day was an adventure! As a child, I spent my days in my backyard out in the countryside until the yip-howls of coyotes would beckon me back inside. Mom brought me into her vegetable garden and blackberry picking in the wild thickets. Dad taught me about wildlife, the identification of plants, and their ethnobotanical significance. He was heavily inspired by Native American beliefs and values. My favorite memories are spending the starry nights with my family around the campfire, hiking the mountains surrounded by all their glorious bounty, and having close encounters with a myriad of majestic wildlife that call these divergent landscapes their home.

The Environmental Horticulture Club at sell out, Poinsettia Season 2021


I am extremely proud to be a University of Florida plant science student specializing in plant breeding and genetics. I chose this field because of the seemingly endless applications and beauty of manipulating plants on a molecular level. I am honored to be an avid member of the Environmental Horticulture (ENH) Club at UF, and I will be Head Grower for the 2022 poinsettia season alongside my invaluable team. I will be graduating in December 2022 with a Bachelor of Science. I began this internship after a series of devastating, life-changing events. However, I am honored that I have had the opportunity to serve this community; as I wrap up my summer internship experience with Orange County, I cannot help but think about how I have been deeply humbled through my experiences at the University of Florida.

The Turning Point

UF/IFAS Erin Alvarez

Through my journey, I met Erin Alvarez, a passionate instructor and dear mentor of mine, and found my passion for connecting people with plants through the outreach and cooperativity of stakeholders. I have been pleasantly surprised by the teamwork-oriented nature of our industry, coming together to make a positive impact. It is incredible seeing the horticultural industry be so supportive and give a hand up to the people behind them. Erin is a considerable advocate of incorporating the industry to serve as a touchstone for her teaching program, which would not be possible without industry involvement. This ignited my passion and gave me the confidence to be who I am today. I would not be here without having Erin serve as a role model and facilitate these connections that provided me with a foundation from which to build my support network. As a first-generation college student, I never dreamed I would get the opportunities I have. Thanks to Erin Alvarez, I became a part of the Environmental Horticulture Club/Family and was able to travel to Italy last May with the possibility of a second international trip!

The first important lesson was that one class and one teacher can make a difference.

Today, Tomorrow, and the Future

Through my time serving Orange County under the guidance of Hannah Wooten, I have witnessed the intricate web of relationships Extension Agents must build and maintain. This feat requires immense adaptability. I began this internship expecting to focus on hydroponics; boy, was I wrong!

From left to right: Hannah Wooten, Chris Weber, Caesar Peralta, and me at the Spanish GI-BMP Program

The second lesson was that plans change at the drop of a hat, or should I say a new fertilizer ordinance.

However, this meant I had the pleasure of meeting, interacting, and learning with some of you! I had the privilege to witness many amazing folks coming together to demonstrate that Extension is truly for all and that one county can make an impressive impact. Overall, this was a very enlightening and humbling experience that has contributed to my professional development by broadening my mindset. This internship has solidified that I possess a strong desire to utilize my understanding of complex subjects to facilitate that connection between science and user. That much like Erin, I hope to facilitate those connections to build the doors to new opportunities and provide the channels to existing ones.

The third lesson was that we live in a world that is completely interconnected and interdependent. We are a massive network of businesses, academics, and residents that can teach and learn from each other and reach mutually beneficial goals… we can evolve our ideas and reach greater heights through collaboration.

The Environmental Horticulture Club in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy

As one door closes, another opens. As I mentioned, I am grateful to be moving on as a Head Grower for the Environmental Horticulture Club at UF for the 2022 poinsettia season. I am looking forward to continuing to learn and challenge myself beside my peers. I hope to carry the great connections I have made with the Orange County Extension Agents throughout my professional career.


Even though this was a conclusion that I reached on my own, my philosophy is a reflection of the interactions and perspectives of the individuals I have had the pleasure of engaging with over the course of my life. Thank you, Erin Alvarez, for giving me the confidence I needed to thrive, showing me that I can make a difference in the world, connecting me with my peers and the ENH family, and so much more than I can even find the words to say. She was an invaluable, supportive, and encouraging mentor and a prominent role model in my life. Thank you, Hannah Wooten, for being an excellent Extension Agent and teacher to me. She had so many strengths that I could learn from and improve. She could make anything a meaningful and relevant learning moment. Thank you, Orange County, for challenging me to improve and providing me with a new perspective.

The Environmental Horticulture Club in front of the Colosseum


North Carolina, one of the many natural beauties that inspired me.

Posted: July 12, 2022

Category: AGRICULTURE, , HOME LANDSCAPES, Horticulture, Lawn, Pests & Disease, Professional Development, Turf, UF/IFAS
Tags: Academics, Ag Careers, Best Management, Best Management Practices, Careers, College Of Agricultural And Life Sciences, Commercial Horticulture, Communication, Extension, Green Industries Best Management Practices, Hwooten, Intern, Internship, Plant, Plants, Professional Development, Summer, UF/IFAS Extension Internship

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