From Homestead to Pensacola, UF/IFAS Extension agents and staff are using all tools necessary – including many virtual activities -- to help businesses, neighbors and governments navigate the challenges presented by COVID-19.
Here are some examples from UF/IFAS Extension county offices and Florida 4-H of our faculty assisting their communities around the state:
JP Gellerman, director of UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County, and some of his staff helped precinct workers in the March 17 presidential primary to make sure everyone could vote.
“It was kind of a scary experience, interacting with lots of people gathered in one place during a time of a pandemic,” Gellerman said. “But there was an important civic thing to do. None of our staff shied away from it. It was very positive. I would like to add that I am very proud of my staff. All of them answered the call and were all willing to volunteer for this duty.”
“A bunch of people thanked us profusely,” he said.
Gellerman said he is also setting up for “apparently the first county staging area for state medical equipment support in the state.”
As for the future, Gellerman said his faculty and staff are “just trying to get our feet underneath us.” They’re creating more social media and videos, putting programs into digital format to reach as many people as possible.
Broward County has already ordered all non-essential businesses to close. Still, you can’t stop the Master Gardeners from learning. UF/IFAS Extension Broward County program administrators and participants are taking their Master Gardener Program on a virtual tour.
“We are committed to finishing the course with the same quality curriculum along with a variety of technology assists that will allow us to train the trainer with a variety of horticulture projects that volunteers can produce and learn from in their own home,” said Lorna Bravo, UF/IFAS Broward County Extension director.
The Florida Master Gardener Program is a volunteer-driven program that benefits UF/IFAS Extension and Florida residents. The program relies on dedicated volunteers who are interested in gardening and give back to their communities.
In addition to Master Gardeners, county Extension offices statewide, including Broward, are helping on many fronts. If you need to know if there is an invasive plant in your garden or you’re not sure if your nursery is experiencing a pest problem, Broward residents can submit samples to Extension agents through a drop box or an email with this online form https://tinyurl.com/ugzxf69. To submit via email, submit photos and details to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check your county’s extension office for similar services.
Bill Lester, UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County horticulture agent, brought hydroponic programming to Facebook Live. The home hydroponics program, typically taught in-person, was delivered through social media and later hosted on the website. The course was viewed over 600 times and Lester plans to continue delivering programming online.
Norma Samuel, UF/IFAS Extension Sumter County horticulture agent, took program delivery to Facebook. A scheduled community garden planting, which normally would have been planted with Florida Master Gardener Volunteers, was completed by Extension agents and aired on Facebook Live to share gardening tips.
“We decided to move along with the planting of the community garden because these are uncertain times,” Samuel said. “We do not know how the current situation will affect the people in the community financially. Will they have to make a choice between purchasing food and paying rent? Maintaining the garden allows us to have a source of fresh produce for those in the community in need.”
Like other agents across Florida, those in UF/IFAS Extension Lake County are still working.
“Some of the efforts include a virtual plant clinic where clients can have plant diseases diagnosed remotely, virtual and DIY site visits with our commercial ag agents, a virtual 4-H day camp to keep our youth engaged, educated and entertained and online educational programs that address everything from pasture management to peach production,” says a posting on the UF/IFAS Extension Lake County Facebook page.
Among the many ways they’re helping in UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County, faculty and staff helped precinct workers and voters exercise their civic duty on March 17.
If you’re looking for activities for your children while they’re home during the virus, UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County agent Rachel Pienta has these tips.
In Washington County, in the Panhandle, UF/IFAS Extension agent Mark Mauldin developed the Extension Porch for soil bags and forms and plant samples. The two most common reasons clients come in the lobby of UF/IFAS Extension Washington County are to pick up soil testing supplies and to drop off specimens for identification and control recommendations.
“My goal with the ‘Extension Porch’ was to minimize the interruption of client services by making soil-testing supplies available outside the lobby and provide a system for dropping off specimens without coming into the lobby,” Mauldin said. “As the push to work from home gets stronger, I tried to make the signage detailed enough that clients could figure everything out without having to talk directly to an agent.”
“I’d rather talk with my clients face-to-face, but since that’s not an option right now it’s important to do whatever we can to continue helping our clients as much as possible,” he said. “The ‘porch’ is just a simple way to limit client inconvenience.”
With club meetings, competitions and other face-to-face activities postponed, youth and faculty are taking 4-H virtual.
“4-H statewide specialists are coming up with creative ways to keep our members engaged,” said Stacey Ellison, associate state program leader for Florida 4-H. “This includes a video series we’re calling Studio 4-H Presents, which will speak directly to youth on everything from caring for project animals to honing public speaking skills at home.”
Not meeting in person doesn’t mean learning and growth must stop, Ellison said.
“4-H members are nothing if not innovative and ready to try new things,” she said.
4-H will also host live Q&A videos on social media, where experts will answer youths’ questions related to COVID-9. You can see the videos on Instagram (@florida4h).
Videos and other resources for youth will be shared on the Florida 4-H Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Visit https://ifas.ufl.edu/covid19-updates/ to stay up to date on UF/IFAS Extension in your area, as well as useful resources for staying healthy, managing stress, working from home, and agriculture and food service industry information.