Since I joined the team here in July 2020, I can say that 2022 proved to be a major year for our office and team. I am not discounting the previous years, but this year was special. Below are some highlights:
HYFLEX: COVID-19 taught us to be nimble and innovative in our programming. We taught more virtual classes because that was how we could reach Orange County residents easier. We learned after going back to in-person programming that folks still wanted virtual AND they wanted in-person programming as well. With the help of UF/IFAS Extension Administration, we were able to transform our Magnolia classroom into a HyFlex classroom this year. This allows us to have hybrid programming – in person AND virtual at the same time. This will prove the be a game changer in how we can reach more Orange County residents.
STAFFING: We had three Extension Agent vacancies, not to mention a Trades Helper and an Administrative Assistant to fill on the County side – and we filled them all. Our new Extension Agent faculty we welcomed in have hit the ground running and for that, I am happy.
Family Consumer Sciences Agent Hillary Ayers,
Urban Residential Horticulture Agent / Master Gardener Coordinator Clarissa Chairez, and
Urban Residential Horticulture Agent Calvin Gardner.
ORDINANCES: Our team here takes research-based information and applies it locally. This truly came into play in 2022, when we assisted the County in the development and creation of three ordinances: Backyard Chicken, Fertilizer, and (on-going) Tree Preservation.
DIABETES PREVENTION: According to the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), 86 million adults have prediabetes, unfortunately, and 9 out of 10 people don’t even know that they have it. Here in Orange County, 11% (around 150,000) of the population is experiencing diabetes and prediabetes. Our FCS team here became a nationally recognized DPP in May of 2021. In 2022, they received 5 Year Full Plus certification, which allows us to host this program officially until 2027. Our office is the only UF/IFAS Extension office with that status – and we are really proud of that.
HURRICANES: I experienced my first two hurricanes (Ian and Nicole) and both brought rain and wind to our County. Ian was the worst by far and our Exploration Gardens flooded as did our auditorium. Our team was primed to help each other and our neighbors before, throughout, and following the hurricanes by providing resources for residents.
CONFERENCES: Our talented Faculty team here not only participated, but presented in several local, state, national, and even international conferences in 2022. Having these opportunities to showcase the work that we do here in Orange County allows us to share best practices, innovation, and ideas with others. It also provides us the opportunity to learn from others and apply here locally. From some of these conferences, we also received local, state, and national awards.
MOSQUITO: Hurricane Ian brought a lot of water, ranging from 6 inches to over 17 inches throughout Orange County – and this water had nowhere to go. One thing that comes from a lot of water sitting around are mosquitos. UF designed a product a while back to protect US soldiers overseas from mosquitos that carry diseases. The Inzecto Company, who makes these mosquito traps, donated over 100,000 traps to us and other counties throughout the state that were impacted by the floodwaters. Being able to provide these traps to our neighbors, educate them about mosquitos, and in a lot of cases, have a conversation about who we are and what we do was definitely rewarding.
PEANUT BUTTER CHALLENGE: For the past three years, we have participated in the Peanut Butter Challenge with other UF/IFAS Extension offices. Why peanut butter? Because it is nutrient dense and has a long-lasting shelf life. Due to the hurricanes, we really pushed the effort this year because this Challenge gave a great opportunity to help those impacted. We partnered with Orange County Parks and Recreation to serve as alternate donation sites and Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings even solicited donations for us. We were able to collect 663 jars of peanut butter, which equated to 1,244 pounds (19,898 ounces). We divided up all the peanut butter, and our 4-H clubs took the peanut butter to six food pantries in Orange County.
SPRING GARDEN FESTIVAL: The Orange County Master Gardener Volunteer Spring Garden Festival was last held in March of 2019 until this year. Due to COVID-19, we had to put a pause on this favorite community event, but we were able to bring it back this year. I overheard so many positive comments from people that day and the resounding comment was – it is so good to be back in person again. Mark your calendars for our next one: March 4, 2023!
MEMORANDUM OF AGREEMENT: Save the best for last, right? Starting January 1, our office has a new Memorandum of Agreement with the County. This agreement strengthens our relationship and partnership and provides equity for the Agents here. If you could see me typing this – I am smiling!
Of course, there are more highlights, and I could go on and on, but 2022 was a great year. So where do we go from here? To answer that, I will refer to the 4-H Motto: To Make the Best Better. Have a nice New Year!