Meet the Agent – Donna Arnold

Meet the Agent – Donna Arnold

Donna Arnold, University of Florida/IFAS Extension - Gadsden County

Donna Arnold, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Gadsden County

Donna Arnold is the Small Farm and Residential Horticultural Agent for the Gadsden County since January, 2022. Her main role as an agent is to provide educational programs, related to sustainable agriculture to farmers in Gadsden County north Florida. These programs in small farms and residential horticulture include: best management practices, production, harvesting, marketing, and sustainability issues. In addition, she will provide direction and leadership for the Master Gardener Program also in the County.

Donna holds a Master of Science Degree in Entomology form Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). In her research she examined the prevalence of Solenopsis invicta virus 3 (SINV-3) in fire ant alates collected in north and central Florida. Previously, she was employed to the Oberlin High School Kingston via Ministry of Education Youth and Culture in Jamaica for over 20 years where she was an Agricultural Sciences teacher and the Head of the Agriculture Department. Her job duties involved managing the school tutorial farm and supervision of members in the agriculture department. She also participated in many on the job trainings and earned certificates in the field of Agriculture and was a part of the National 4-H clubs.

Donna Arnold in Beekeeper Jacket

Donna Arnold in Beekeeper Jacket

Her experience in Agriculture began at an early age; she was raised in a small farming community in East Rural St Andrew, nestled in the blue mountain regions of Jamaica. Farming was the main source of income there – Coffee and vegetable crops predominately grown. Since agriculture was embedded in her from a tender age, this act as a catalyst to propelled her to learn more about the pedagogical aspects. Donna’s formal agricultural experience began at Elim Agricultural School, now known as Sydney Pagan Agricultural School, where she was awarded a certificate in General Agriculture.

She later worked in extension with Rural Agricultural Development Authority under the Ministry of Agriculture. During her tenure she saw the need to upgrade educationally to better served her farmers in rural communities, therefore, she pursued an Associate of Science degree in Agriculture (ASc.), and a Bachelor of Technology in Food System Management and Agriculture Production (BTECH) respectively, at the College of Agricultural Science and Education (CASE). After which, she pursued a Diploma in Teacher Education at the Short wood Teachers College.

With the knowledge and skills garnered this led to her understanding that agriculture plays a vital role in food security because she believes a country is not independent until it can feed itself. It was always Donna’s intention to continue working in Agricultural extension, there she believes she can make a positive impact on farmers lives since they are the drivers of food production.

During her spear time one can find Donna tending plants, working with honey bee research and, watching home and garden television series. Her motto is “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference” by Winston Churchill

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.