A Florida Master Naturalist Uplands class visits the highest point in Florida, located in Walton County. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
For many Floridians, gardening is a window into learning the cycles of the natural world. Understanding pollination, distinguishing beneficial insects from harmful ones, creating compost, or knowing what time of year to apply iron supplements are important for a gardener to be successful. While we have our share of campers, hikers, and kayakers, over the years Extension agents have found that some of our best Master Naturalist students are those with fond memories of farming or gardening as children or adults.
If you have always been fascinated by the natural world and how plants, animals, and people interact, you might be a perfect candidate for the Master Naturalist program. Offered periodically in almost every county in Florida, this adult educational course combines classroom sessions with field instruction, typically over a six-week period. At graduation, students present an original project, which may vary from creating an exhibit, a children’s book, or even an environmental non-profit organization.
Master Naturalist students vary in backgrounds from retired military and teachers to park rangers and college students. Many Master Gardeners find the courses a helpful addition to their training, and utilize their newly gained knowledge when working with clientele. At completion, students receive an official Florida Master Naturalist certificate, pin, and patch.
The traditional 40-hour courses cover Upland, Coastal, and Freshwater Wetland habitats, while the newer “special topics” cover Conservation Science, Environmental Interpretation, Habitat Evaluation, and Wildlife Monitoring. A new “restoration” series has begun with the Coastal Restoration class, which kicked off in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties and is currently being taught in Bay. Extension agents will be offering several classes in the Panhandle this fall—check out the FMNP registration site to see when a class will be offered near you!
Mrs. Henry C. Mills in 1966 with her African violets at the North Florida Fair
flower show. Photo by Dan Stainer/State Archives of Florida.
Growing up, as soon as I entered the fair gates, I always headed straight for the rides. If I was lucky, I was able to get an unlimited pass strapped around my wrist and didn’t need to worry about rationing any tickets. Although I usually didn’t remember the names of particular rides – they were clear in my imagination. The spaceship, the circular mini roller coaster, the alien arms… and of course, the Ferris wheel. It wasn’t until I was about a dozen rides in – and starting to feel a little queasy – that the fun houses and win-a-goldfish-by-throwing-a-ring or shoot-a-basketball-for-a-giant-stuffed-tiger games drew my attention. After that, I was ready for funnel cake. Maybe even a corn dog and an assortment of fried cheese, pickles, and the like. Inevitably, I would eat too much and be out of commission for any more rides I was hoping to squeeze in – or squeeze into! This is when I might finally make my rounds through one or two of the giant warehouse-looking buildings that lined the way to the exits, where I knew there was at least a llama or a goat to be fed at the petting zoo.
Instead of simply attending the North Florida Fair this year, submit your garden’s best for competition. Photo by North Florida Fair.
But when I started volunteering at the Leon County Animal Shelter as part of the 4-H Pet Partners at age 12, I was introduced to these buildings in a whole new light. We were assigned the task of creating papier-mâché cats and dogs to display at the fair to help build awareness of pet overpopulation. I remember my dog well – he was beagle-like, with long droopy paper ears and stiff pointy legs that I struggled to keep balanced. The day we went to set up our display, my adrenaline soared, as I knew our creations were to be judged and ribbons to be bestowed. Ever since, I no longer view the fair buildings as a last stop – rather, I relish my stroll through each of them, as they contain so many handmade treasures, many of which are adorned with blue rosettes of triumph.
The tradition of displaying and competing for the best quality handiworks at the fair goes all the way back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, where merchants sold and traded agricultural goods that had been grown over the summer and freshly harvested in the fall. Naturally, competitions arose during these times, as they strove for the finest products.
Today, fairs reflect the personality of an area, and nearly universally include judges who inspect home grown fruits and vegetables, flowers, preserved foods, and baked goods entered into competition by the community. The North Florida Fair awards about $80,000 in cash prizes to citizens who create and grow various items. Anyone living within the 24 counties that comprise North Florida – from the Suwannee, west to the Alabama line – is eligible to enter as many of the exhibit categories as they would like.
A youth showcasing his prize winning chicken at the North Florida Fair. Photo by Aly Donovan.
The exhibits are arranged into various departments, such as Home Agriculture, Capital City Garden Club Flower Show, Poultry, Baked Goods, and Fine Arts and Crafts. Within each department, there are various classes that are split into certain age divisions (i.e., youth only) or experience levels (i.e., amateur vs. professional). Under the Home Agriculture department there are 42 classes, including 13 classes covering fresh vegetables. The Capital City Garden Club Flower Show department has 13 classes, including annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, fruiting shrubs, trees, and vines, succulents, and much more. If you would like to submit something you’ve grown, now is the time to begin planning, as this year’s fair is set for November 8-18.
All of the details for each department and class can be found on the North Florida Fair website (http://northfloridafair.com/), under the Exhibitors tab. Pay close attention to the application and submittal deadlines for each specific category, as most items are due for judging the week prior to the fair opening.
So, let nostalgia win you over as you prepare your home-grown vegetables and flowers for submittal to the North Florida Fair. You might just earn a blue ribbon to be displayed for all fair attendees to admire, either as they walk off a full stomach in preparation for more rides, on their way to the exits, or just as they get started creating their own fond fair memories.
Dr. Steve Johnson, UF/IFAS Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology will be the featured speaker on June 6th
June 6th is a great day to learn about all types of invasive species that threaten natural areas in Northwest Florida!
The UF/IFAS Extension Bay County office will have multiple educational exhibits with living samples of species of concern from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 6th. This is a multi-agency effort to inform citizens about the impact of invasive plants and animals and how they can help reduce introduction and spread. For full details see the Bay_Invasive Workshop Flyer
We are pleased to announce our partners Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida will be on hand to share information about caring for exotic pets and current management plans for invasive species such as Lionfish, Aquatic Weeds, and how to surrender an animal on designated Pet Amnesty Days.
At noon there will be a special guest speaker for a bring your own lunch & learn “Exotic Invaders: Reptiles and Amphibians of Concern in NW FL.” Dr. Steven Johnson, UF/IFAS Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology, will talk about exotic reptiles and amphibians we should be aware of that may occur in our area.
In the morning, we will be focusing on the invasive air potato vine with the distribution of air potato leaf beetles for biological control. Need air potato leaf beetles to manage the air potato vine on your property? Please register here http://bit.ly/bayairpotato to receive beetles – they will be distributed from 9 a.m. – noon on June 6th.
Learn more about the success of the Air Potato Biological Control program at http://bcrcl.ifas.ufl.edu/airpotatobiologicalcontrol.shtml
Air potato leaf beetle attacking the invasive air potato plant.
Air potatoes got you down? Have no fear, for the Air Potato Challenge is coming to Leon County!
Register now to attend the Air Potato Challenge event on May 18, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the FAMU Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research (6361 Mahan Drive, Tallahassee, FL) and receive a supply of air potato beetles to use on your property.
After years of testing, air potato beetles became available as a biological control in 2012 to help combat the invasive herbaceous perennial air potato vine (Dioscorea bulbifera). Air potatoes arrived in south Florida from China in the early 1900s and have steadily crept north until they are now invading the Panhandle Region. Fortunately, air potato beetles have dietary requirements that are very specific, relying strictly upon air potatoes to complete their life cycles.
This is why a team of researchers and Extension agents have come together to help spread air potato beetles as a biological control strategy. Many agencies and counties are involved in this effort, including UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County, UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center, the Florida Department of Agriculture Division of Plant Industry, the USDA, Florida Fish and Wildlife, UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, and Florida A&M University.
From 9 a.m. to noon on May 18, Florida residents and public land managers are invited to come out to the FAMU Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research to get more information about the invasive air potato and its biological controller, the air potato beetle, and receive a supply of beetles to use on their properties. Please pre-register on the Eventbrite page (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/may-18-2018-air-potato-challenge-leaf-beetles-available-for-the-public-leon-county-fl-tickets-44793035174).
You can find more information about air potatoes and air potato beetles on the UF/IFAS Solutions for Your Life Air Potato Biological Control page (http://bcrcl.ifas.ufl.edu/airpotatobiologicalcontrol.shtml).
What: Air Potato Challenge
Where: FAMU Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research, 6361 Mahan Drive, Tallahassee, FL
When: May 18, 2018, 9 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Cost: Free of charge, but please pre-register
Register today for the 2018 Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference! The Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference is scheduled for February 19th & 20th. On the 19th we will go on an afternoon farm tour in Baldwin County, AL that will end with dinner (included) at Auburn University’s Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center in Fairhope. Educational sessions with guest speakers from University of Florida, Auburn University, and Texas A&M University will be held on February 20th where topics will include Citrus Production, Vegetable Production, Protected Ag Production, Marketing/Business, Food Safety, and Fruit & Nut Production. A full list of topics can be found here. Fifty dollars (plus $4.84 processing fee) covers the tour and dinner on the 19th and educational sessions, breakfast, and lunch on the 20th! The complete agenda is now available. Use your mouse or finger to “click” on the image below for full screen viewing.
Make sure to register by Wednesday, February 14th! – Registration Link
Every gardener should know a thing or two about farming. Join UF/IFAS Extension at the 2018 Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference to not only learn about market vegetable production, fruit and nut production, and much more, but also to attend the pre-conference farm tour and listen to a speech by the Keynote Speaker, Dr. Joy Rumble, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication at the University of Florida.
Dr. Joy Rumble, the 2018 Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference Keynote Speaker.
Dr. Rumble is originally from Mount Gilead, Ohio. She earned a bachelor of science degree from The Ohio State University, majoring in animal science. During her undergraduate studies, Dr. Rumble raised livestock, worked as an intern on two large swine operations, and served as a summer intern for the USDA Farm Service Agency. She earned a master of science degree in agricultural communication and continued her education at the University of Florida, where she graduated with her doctorate in agricultural education and communication in 2013.
Dr. Rumble is now an Assistant Professor and Extension Programming Coordinator with the University of Florida. Her research focus is effective communication and raising awareness of agricultural and natural resources issues within the agricultural industry. She concentrates many of her outreach initiatives at the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (PIE Center).
At the PIE Center, Dr. Rumble strives to measure knowledge, behaviors, and perceptions of agriculture of Florida constituents and responds to the many economic, environmental, and social challenges we face within the state. She often shares her findings through the Easy as PIE webinar series to allow both the public and Florida’s policymakers to make informed decisions to preserve the assets of the state’s agricultural and natural resources. Most recently, Dr. Rumble was a speaker for an Easy as PIE webinar to discuss a statewide strategic plan for agritourism.
Dr. Rumble’s service as the UF/IFAS Extension Programming Coordinator creates improved citizen awareness of agriculture and natural resources through UF/IFAS County Extension Offices.
Dr. Rumble assisting with a UF/IFAS campus tour for Florida Senator Bill Nelson’s staff on October 18th, 2016.
Make plans to attend the 2018 Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference on Tuesday, February 20, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the University of West Florida Conference Center (11000 Conference Parkway, Building 22) in Pensacola, Florida. You will learn about the importance of agricultural communication from Dr. Rumble directly, and attend conference educational tracts on North Florida Citrus Production, Fruit and Nut Production, Vegetable Production, Marketing, Food Safety, and Protected Agriculture. The conference will also provide an opportunity for networking and give you a chance to meet farmers from across our region.
Also included in the conference ticket price is the pre-conference “Buy Local” farm tour on Monday, February 19, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tour buses will start out at the University of West Florida and will make three stops, traveling to the Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center in Fairhope, Alabama, a hydroponic vegetable farm in Daphne, Alabama, and the Allegri Farm Market, also in Daphne, Alabama.
For more information and registration visit https://pfvc2.eventbrite.com. Early bird registration is $50 (+ service fee), before February 1, 2018. Your registration includes continental breakfast, lunch, refreshments, educational materials, and transportation to the farm tour locations. We look forward to seeing you there!