Meet the Author: Larry Williams

Meet the Author: Larry Williams

Larry teaching Master Gardener Volunteers outdoors at Turkey Creek in Niceville, FL

Larry teaching Master Gardener Volunteers about the connection of their landscapes to the watershed

Larry is the Residential Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator with UF/IFAS Extension in Okaloosa County. He has served in this position for 26 years assisting County residents in developing and maintaining Florida-Friendly lawns, landscapes and gardens.

Larry says that Extension has been impactful in his life since he was a youth. He remembers a “County Agent” bringing tomato plants to his elementary school class, providing instructions on how to grow them and providing each student with their own tomato plant to take home for a tomato growing competition though the local Extension 4-H youth program. Being familiar with land-grant universities and their research and Extension publications, he frequently used this resource in completing course work at both Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) and at the University of Georgia, earning degrees in agriculture and agriculture education. He later earned a Master of Education degree from the University of West Florida.

It was a high school agriculture teacher and FFA Advisor who was the main influence for Larry pursuing a degree as an Agriculture Teacher himself. While teaching high school as an agriculture/horticulture teacher and an FFA Advisor, Larry introduced his students to Extension by having the County Extension Director as a guest speaker in the classroom and working with the Extension office with agriculture events, including youth livestock shows as well as other FFA and 4-H youth events. When deciding to leave teaching high school, it was

Larry teaching youth about gardening in a school garden

Larry teaching youth about gardening

the local County Extension Director who asked Larry if he had ever considered a career with Extension. That planted a “seed” that Larry pursued, serving as an Extension Agent in two unban Counties and one rural County in Georgia and currently serving as an Extension Agent in Okaloosa County, FL. Larry was the first Horticulture Agent and established the Master Gardener Volunteer program in Okaloosa County.

Larry has worked in the areas of agriculture, forestry and horticulture, but horticulture is his passion. He has been employed with a large commercial greenhouse operation, a retail garden center, a landscape company, operated a city greenhouse and nursery, worked as a city arborist and owned and operated his own landscape business.

Larry writes a weekly garden column for the Northwest Florida Daily News and has a weekly garden radio program for WAAZ 104.7 in Crestview.

He enjoys spending time with his two children, providing learning experiences for youth and adults through Extension Education and doing some gardening himself. He says, “Never underestimate the impact you’ll have on youth when teaching them about gardening.”

Meet the Author Julie McConnell

Meet the Author Julie McConnell

Julie McConnell with moose in background.

Stopped for a photo with a moose in Allenspark, Colorado this summer.

Julie McConnell is the Horticulture Agent with UF/IFAS Extension Bay County. She was hired in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Ornamental Horticulture from Auburn University, but the position also required a master’s degree. From 2014-2016 Julie attended the University of Florida’s distance learning program to earn a Master of Science in Entomology and Nematology and a Graduate Certificate in Landscape Pest Management. Although it was challenging to juggle family, work, and classes she quickly found that insects are fascinating creatures and the knowledge she was gaining could be applied daily on the job.

An Army brat, Julie lived all over the Southeast and in Hawaii before her parents settled in South Florida where she spent most of her childhood. Growing up she had no interest in plants or insects but loved animals and hoped to one day be a veterinarian. Fast forward many years to a few failed physics and chemistry classes triggering undergraduate major changes and eventually Julie found a good fit with Horticulture while studying at Auburn. She flourished in that program and found a job in wholesale nursery sales in the metro-Atlanta market upon graduation in 2001.

While working on her degree at Auburn, Julie worked as a Public Safety Communications Officer with the City of Auburn for 6 years. In that role she helped write standard operating procedures and a formalized training program and trained new hires. She also served 8 years in the U.S. Army Reserves at an Aviation Headquarters Unit at Ft. Rucker, Alabama.

Julie has been married for 15 years and has 4 children and 3 grandchildren. She lives in northern Bay County with her husband and their youngest child. They love spending time in or on the water and have picked up new hobbies including kayaking and diving since moving to Florida. They also enjoy traveling and hosting family and friends visiting from out of state. In addition to sharing the beautiful beaches of Bay County, they like to introduce visitors to other outdoor recreational spots such as the crystal-clear springs and dune lakes in Northwest Florida.

kayaking in Florida

Although I never catch any fish, I love family time on the water.

Bill and Julie McConnell diving at St. Andrews State Park. 2019

Bill and Julie McConnell diving at St. Andrews State Park. 2019

Meet the Author Danielle Sprague

Meet the Author Danielle Sprague

Danielle Sprague is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent in Jefferson County, Florida and has been for almost three years. Danielle is originally from the land of Indian River Grapefruit, otherwise known as Vero Beach, Florida! Her Extension program areas include Agriculture, Horticulture and Natural Resources.

As a young girl, Danielle always thought she would be a nurse. She always wanted to help others and make a difference in her community. It wasn’t until she was exposed to the agriculture industry through 4-H in high school, did she realize there were other avenues to do so. With a newfound appreciation and passion for the agriculture industry, Danielle changed career paths completely.

She went on to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Studies from Warner University in Lake Wales, Florida. While at Warner University, she completed internships at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center as well as with Dow AgroSciences. Following that, she earned her Master’s degree in Entomology from the University of Florida where she worked as a Graduate Research Assistant at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy. She considers her current position as an Agriculture Extension Agent her dream job.

Danielle teaching about insects.

When she isn’t working, Danielle enjoys boating, fishing, hunting, camping, visiting different agritourism operations, pretty much anything outdoors! She also enjoys cooking and baking.

Meet the Agent Matthew Orwat

Meet the Agent Matthew Orwat

At an Extension event. 

Matthew J. Orwat Is the Horticulture Extension Agent for Washington County, Florida.  His mission is to provide educational programming to meet the diverse needs of and provide solutions for homeowners and small farmers with ornamental, turf, fruit and vegetable gardening objectives.

He holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology, with an emphasis in Botany, from University of Texas Arlington and a Masters in Horticulture from Texas A&M University.

Matthew started gardening at an early age when growing up in Fort Worth, Texas. He grew lots of fruit trees and vegetables with his father, and helped his grandfather in his grape orchard and pecan grove. His passion for roses developed out of a passion for native trees, of which he learned to identify all types in his area when he was 12. When he was 13, his mom brought home one rose bush and the rest is history. By high school, he was growing 83 rose bushes and had already competed in local rose shows. Besides roses, Matthew enjoyed studying native plant ecology, prairie preservation and greenhouse production of tropical plants. In college he managed the teaching greenhouses for the University of Texas at Arlington Biology Department. He found this work rewarding, inspiring him onto furthering his career in horticulture.

Matthew was interested in gardening from a young age

He has been an avid rose grower since 14 years old and worked with the Texas A&M Rose Breeding and Genetics program in graduate school evaluating genetic traits for disease resistance. He also began working with Texas Agrilife Extension at this time, teaching about sustainable vegetable and rose gardening for both college students and master gardeners. He started his career with UF / IFAS in 2011 and is the Horticulture Extension Agent for Washington County Florida, in Chipley. He believes that roses can be grown in the coastal South, with minimal spraying, if careful cultivar selection is made. A good starting point for this is reviewing historic records and texts, particularly the chapter on roses in Hume’s “Gardening in the Lower South”. Also the findings of the Texas Earthkind Rose Selection Program provide good insight for rose gardeners in Northwest Florida.

He enjoys working with his small, but active, group of Master Gardener Volunteers on various youth projects and educational classes.

He has a passion for fruit and nut production and endeavors to assist growers throughout the Northwest District with production of crops such as blueberries, citrus, peaches, muscadines and other fruit crops. He also is involved with the UF / IFAS Honeybee Extension Lab’s statewide Beekeeping program. He believes that there are lots of untapped niche markets for small and medium sized farms in Northwest Florida and aims to help enterprising agricultural entrepreneurs find those niches.


Matt teaching other extension agents about roses

Meet the Agent: Sheila Dunning

Meet the Agent: Sheila Dunning

Sheila Dunning is the Commercial Horticulture Agent with the University of Florida Extension Service in Okaloosa County.  She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Horticulture and a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Education and Communication from the University of Florida, as well as, several industry certifications including International Society of Arboriculture Arborist, Associate Certified Entomologist, and Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association Landscape Contractor.  Her background is in the nursery industry, of which she was employed for twenty-two years before joining Extension over eighteen years ago.

Sheila’s programs for Green Industry professionals include Best Management Practices; pesticide applicator certification; and environmentally friendly landscaping design, installation and maintenance.  In addition, she provides programming in natural resource stewardship through the Florida Master Naturalist Program.

Born in rural Wisconsin, she spent her early childhood as the son and hunting dog that her father never had, going on hunting, trapping and forest adventures. After moving to Brevard County, FL in 1976, Sheila’s interests turned to cultivating plants and rehabilitating local wildlife by working at a local 40-acre wholesale nursery and tending to the many wounded animals that roamed her parents’ home.  She never knew what kind of creature she might find in her bed.

Married to an Air Force mechanic, Sheila spent 14 years traveling the world as a military wife, having two children along the way. Playing softball was a family activity, practicing or competing daily for over 22 years.  Sheila was the catcher on the Icelandic NATO Forces Woman’s softball team, the European champions from 1986 -1989.  She worked in a large greenhouse and florist while overseas, enabling here to learn even more plant material and utilize those Latin night school classes.

Sheila’s vast knowledge of Florida’s natural resources and cultivated plants was sparked early in life and has continued to grow as she settled into Northwest Florida, working at local retail nurseries and completing her education.  Working closely with landscapers, pest control operators and government parks crew to keep up-to-date on plant maintenance, water protection and integrated pest management have become her main daily focus.  But, she still finds time to introduce her grandchildren to the wonders of nature.

Meet Carrie Stevenson!

Meet Carrie Stevenson!

Carrie Stevenson is the Coastal Sustainability Agent for the UF/IFAS Escambia County Extension Office and has been with the organization almost 17 years.  Her educational outreach programs focus on living sustainably within a vulnerable coastal ecosystem. She helps clientele better understand how to protect and preserve local landscape and water resources, wisely use our abundant rainfall and sunlight, and prepare and mitigate for flooding, coastal storms and climate impacts.

Growing up an avid reader and science junkie, a young Carrie aspired to find a career that allowed her to “be outdoors and wear jeans,” and in college sought to become a science writer. After graduation and a move to Pensacola, she found work as a field-based environmental specialist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). While always more of an animal person than a plant person, her training with FDEP instilled a lifelong love of wetlands, as she spent her days tromping through the swamps, wet prairies, and creeks of northwest Florida. After joining UF IFAS Extension, she spent 6 years as a Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Agent before switching to Coastal Sustainability. Her expertise and articles focus on native plants, coastal habitats, wetlands, stormwater, and climate issues.

A native of Mississippi, Carrie has lived with her husband in Pensacola since 1999. Carrie earned her master’s degree in Biology/Coastal Zone Studies from the University of West Florida (Pensacola) and an undergraduate degree in Marine Science from Samford University (Birmingham, Alabama). A lifelong outdoors enthusiast, she enjoys biking, standup paddleboarding, and traveling to national parks with her family. She also has many favorite international outdoor experiences, ranging from hiking rainforests with an enthnobotanist in Belize to exploring the thorny scrub of South Africa. Carrie is the proud mom of an Eagle Scout and leads her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. She is a Fellow in the Natural Resources Leadership Institute (NRLI), past president of the Florida Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals (FANREP), and member of IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay.