About Us

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension in Brevard County is a partnership between UF/IFAS, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Brevard County government. We provide educational programs based on the latest research and technology on a variety of topics.

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Our Programs

Assisting Turf Managers to Stay In the Green

December 2015

Turfgrass

By Matt Lenhardt, Commercial Horticulture Agent

Balancing the look and feel of sports fields against budget constraints while conserving water…and protecting water quality is always a challenge for sports turf managers.

John, a sports turf manager in Brevard County, was facing just such a balancing act when he stopped by the UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County office for some advice on new fertilizers he was compiling for a vendor bid list. As we spoke about the bid package, the conversation turned to his existing schedule. Were there areas of improvement? How could we help? This was a great opportunity to engage in one of the most productive facets of our job, one-on-one consultations. The value in these consultations is their ability to bring the needs of community partners into focus.

By working together and following UF/IFAS recommendations, we were able to modify John’s fertilization program on approximately ninety-four acres, and also on his spring grow-in fertilizer program for new/renovated fields. The changes implemented resulted in fertilizer reductions and costs of approximately $15,000.00 in his overall field budget.

We’ve built a good relationship and continue to evaluate his fields for any changes that might be needed with his fertilizer programs. In getting to know John, we’ve also been able to market our educational sports turf seminars to his colleagues, letting this section of the “green industry” know they can get the help they need from UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County.

What’s even better, in 2014, a total of 13 different companies received consultations. Based on the modifications implemented, nitrogen use was reduced by approximately 7,617 pounds, a 16.2% reduction, and phosphorous use was reduced by 1200 pounds, or 97%, in one year. Those reductions make a real difference in the amount of fertilizers released into our waterways, improving water quality and our environment. Those reductions also mean decreased expenditures for small businesses, which increases their revenue. We are dedicated to helping both our local economy and our environment through our programs and consultations.

Creating Culinary Kids' Classes

December 2015

By Elizabeth Shephard, UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County Family and Consumer Science Agent

Kid making pizzaDuring one of our afterschool culinary classes, Mary came to pick up her son Ben. Usually children cannot wait to leave school, but Ben didn’t want to leave because he didn’t want to miss the cooking exercise, so Mary agreed to stay until the class was over. The class taught children how to prepare raw vegetables and pair them with a yogurt based dip, which made them a lot more fun. As many parents will confirm, raw vegetables don’t usually illicit enthusiastic responses from their children, but Ben was very excited about this recipe. After the class, Mary expressed her excitement saying, “Ben never eats vegetables! Please give me the recipe. I can’t wait to tell his dad what I just saw.”

This nutrition class is offered through The Family Nutrition Program at a variety of venues throughout the county. This year we partnered with afterschool programs at a number of different schools. Once a week for seven weeks students learn about different foods and the nutritional benefits of those foods. The recipes focus on a different food group each week. The program keeps students engaged by teaching them hands-on how to cook and prepare their own food. After six weeks of learning nutrition and food preparation, students make a dish that includes all of the food groups, which they then share with parents or caretakers. In addition to sharing the dish, families are asked to sit down and talk about food, which reinforces the lessons learned during the class, and gives families time to be together and talk.

At one of the parent nights, Alice introduced Lisa, her mom, to the “cooking lady.” Lisa was excited about what her daughter was learning …especially about the new foods she had tried and liked such as the sun butter and bell peppers, which she had always thought were hot! Lisa said that she and her brother are chefs, but have never cooked with Alice. Since participating in the class, Alice has talked non-stop about cooking, and now they all cook together on the weekends! Mom gave an enthusiastic, “Thanks for introducing Alice to this program!”

Erica shared she had never tasted a fresh pineapple before. One lesson featured a demonstration on how to cut the fruit. Erica taught her mother how to cut a pineapple, and for Thanksgiving dinner, they sliced a fresh pineapple and used it to make stuffing for the turkey.

During our cooking classes students also learn life skills such as:

  • Math skills such as counting, fractions, sequencing (order of events), measuring, and shapes
  • Problem solving
  • Chemistry and science (how food changes while cooking)
  • Geography and where our food comes from
  • Cultural lessons about diets of people in other parts of the world
  • Creativity
  • Health lessons, understanding nutrition and food groups, as well as appreciating the importance of safety and cleanliness
  • Fine motor skills such as whisking, measuring, pouring, sifting, and rolling
  • Social skills such as responsibility, cooperation, sharing, and self esteem

"Children develop food preferences at a young age, yet tend to be really picky at this age, so it's important to sustain healthy habits which will persist into adulthood," Devina Wadhera, also a researcher at Arizona State University and the study's other author, told Reuters Health.

The stories never end, and it is evident that students are really learning about different foods. However, our students love it primarily because they are able to take the cooking skills they’ve learned, and truly enjoy, home to share with their parents. It’s also important to remember these classes are a catalyst for family lifestyle (food) choices. When we make learning about nutrition fun for our youth, UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County helps to make our community a healthier one, saving healthcare dollars, and improving lives.

Growing Healthy Landscapes While Protecting Our Waterways

December 2015

Fertilizer

By Sally Scalera, UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County Urban Horticulture Agent

Brevard County resident Don was having a bit of trouble with his lawn. He had a company fertilizing and caring for his lawn, but he was tired of paying money for poor results. That’s when he called us and requested a My Brevard Yard visit. The My Brevard Yard (MBY) Program was created to teach and assist residents in maintaining a healthy lawn and landscape while protecting our waterways through reductions in fertilizer applications and proper irrigation practices.

During our site visits, both soil and water samples are collected; the previous year’s fertilization records are reviewed; irrigation is calibrated; and all of a resident’s questions and concerns are addressed. After the site visit, both soil and water samples are tested. After the results are received, a fertilizer recommendation is created.

Don’s past fertilizer records from February 2015 noted a total of 350 pounds of fertilizer was applied to his 14,000 square foot lawn. When Don’s soil test results were received, they showed high levels of phosphorus but low levels of both potassium and magnesium. Why is this important? The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) is one of the most biologically diverse estuaries in the continental United States. Years of nutrient loading and pollution from septic systems, fertilizers, and stormwater run-off have contributed to the IRL’s impaired status. Stormwater is believed to be the largest threat to the IRL because it can transport nitrogen and phosphorus from turf to the nearest waterbody. In Don’s case, unnecessary phosphorus that could have potentially run into the IRL was being applied. While this may not seem like a significant impact in and of itself, think of how many additional lawns and turf areas there are in Brevard County. Each small victory adds to a larger positive impact on our environment.

Don received his soil test results and fertilizer recommendations in plenty of time to purchase his new spreader and to apply the proper amount of fertilizer to the right areas. In the process of solving Don’s fertilizer issues, we also assisted with recommendations to fix several other landscaping challenges. Don’s email reply after receiving his recommendations shows how we can help our homeowners to create beautiful landscapes while protecting the environment, “Thanks so much for this report...I'll get the prescribed fertilizer and apply next month. Some of the brown spots on the lawn have greened up as well…Best regards and thanks again, Don.”

Assisting residents with their fertilizing and irrigation needs can solve a variety of landscaping problems that occur in turf and ornamental plantings. MBY site visits can produce a win-win situation for both the homeowners and the Indian River Lagoon.

Saving Farmers Time and Money

December 2015

Oranges

By Joe Walter, UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County Agriculture Agent

Carl grows oranges, strawberries, mustard greens, tomatoes, and many other vegetables on his family farm in Brevard County. To increase his profits, he juices some of his citrus crop and sells the fresh juice. He has been farming most of his life--growing crops for himself and others, and working seven days a week to earn enough money to raise his family.

One day Carl was visited by an inspector who identified himself as a compliance officer with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Life changed for Carl when the inspector placed a seal on the juicing machine, rendering it inoperable. It failed to comply with FDACS rules and Carl would not be able to resume juicing fruit until he corrected the problems. The list of requirements was daunting, and the cost to meet the requirements exceeded his anticipated revenue. Freezes, drought, citrus greening, and canker had made citrus production challenging enough, but the addition of meeting food processing regulations left Carl feeling hopeless and frustrated.

Carl searched for solutions, and he did what most farmers do, he talked to other farmers. One farmer, John, offered to juice Carl‘s oranges until he could comply with the FDACS requirements. John also suggested that Carl contact UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County Agriculture Agent, Joe Walter, who had helped him meet the requirements for his juicing operation.

Joe met Carl at the farm to discuss the steps to compliance. Joe invited the FDACS inspector to clarify requirements and facilitate compliance. A list of requirements was compiled. The cost was estimated at $20,000 for a new waste water disposal system, an enclosed juicing room with drains, three compartment sink, electrical work, and new restrooms. All of these items would need to be in place before Carl could produce juice.

Joe reviewed the requirements with FDACS and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), both of which had jurisdiction over the requirements. After reviewing the requirements, some much less costly alternatives were found. Better yet, these solutions would save water. The waste water could be used for citrus tree irrigation. The law did not require new restrooms because only family members would be juicing the fruit. The existing residential restrooms would suffice. The only improvement for the new enclosed juicing room was the ability to be washed. The waste water from this task would also be used for irrigation. A site plan was developed, sent to DEP, and approved. Carl made the required cost-effective changes to his operation. FDACS re-inspected the facility, and granted Carl the necessary permit to process and sell his locally grown juice to the public. The cost of improvements was less than $1000.00 under the new plan.

Working one-on-one with local agricultural producers allows UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County the opportunity to help producers retain and expand their businesses, preserve the historical integrity of agriculture in our County, and help to strengthen local food systems for Brevard County consumers.

Teaching Gardening and Improving Lives

December 2015

Garden

By Vanessa Spero-Swingle, UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County 4-H Agent

Jane lives in Cocoa and has been going to Joe Lee after school for homework help with her grandmother for many years. When the garden program at the community center started, she and her grandmother started attending. Jane is quick to pick up her homework papers and listen attentively for the lesson when it’s meeting time.

The Joe Lee community center is located in Cocoa, Florida. According to Neighborhood Scout, “With a crime rate of 86 per one thousand residents, Cocoa has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to all communities of all sizes - from the smallest towns to the very largest cities. One’s chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime here is one in 12. Within Florida, more than 98% of the communities have a lower crime rate than Cocoa.”

The garden at Joe Lee maintains four 4 by 8 foot raised garden beds. They are 30 feet from a water source and utilize a rain barrel to help collect water. The garden at Joe Lee is one of few sites that produces year round. Participants start the 4-H year by planting tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs in the fall and as the weather gets colder they plant broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, etc. in the winter, followed by okra, beans, and hot peppers in the summer. In the most recent harvest in August 2015, okra accounted for about half the total amount of produce harvested from the garden, the rest consisted of beans and hot peppers. Almost all of the harvest goes home with the youth and families involved with the garden, along with some sampled on site for tasting!

4-H Youth Development Extension Agent, Vanessa Spero-Swingle of UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County started the garden with recreation aids in 2013. After attending an Afterschool Volunteer Training in 2012, the staff felt a garden would be an opportunity to teach youth science skills while showing them how to grow their own food. Vanessa targets afterschool sites for garden programs to help youth stay active, eat healthier, and to go outside to learn.

The 4-H members are on their fourth planting season, but every time they harvest they still say those magic words, “I’ve never tried that before.” Whether it is an entirely new vegetable, they have never eaten it in its raw form or a vegetable they have never prepared, Brevard’s 4-H Program Teaches Youth how to grow their own food.

Youth who participate in Vanessa’s 4-H gardening clubs, such as the one at Joe Lee, are learning important STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and healthy living skills. Not only do students have an opportunity to plant the garden, but they also learn the science behind growing vegetables and how to prepare the vegetables in a healthy way. Encouraging youth to become familiar with new foods is the best way to get them to eat them on a regular basis. Participants tell their parents the best part is bringing home the leftover vegetables, and sharing with their families.

During the planning phase, Vanessa Spero-Swingle, 4-H Agent at the UF/IFAS Brevard County Extension office, was initially concerned the garden may not have been able to withstand the pressures of a community that is known to have a considerable crime rate. So, with local donations and Parks and Recreation assistance, a chain link fence was put up around the garden. A few months later the inside of the center was vandalized but, remarkably, the garden was untouched.

To date, Brevard County 4-H has 11 garden clubs, with over 200 youth participating, representing more than half of the 4-H youth enrolled in 4-H clubs. Clubs are located at schools or parks and recreation community centers, with a majority of the gardens in low-income areas. Grants through sources such as Farm to School, Florida Department of Agriculture and Florida Agriculture in the Classroom and 21st Century Grants have provided more than $10,000 in funding to support these projects.

A digest review conducted by Yerkes and Haras found that, “involvement in outdoor activities stimulates interest in the outdoors, which in turn motivates students to learn about the natural environment (Matthew and Riley, 1995).” Furthermore, the digest found that a study done by Howe and Dissinger (1988) found that outdoor experiences, “made a significant impact on student attitudes and found that outdoor settings were effective in teaching awareness of environmental issues.”

The UF/IFAS, Brevard County Extension office, an equal opportunity institution, provides hundreds of educational opportunities that impact over 350 youth annually through hands-on learning that improves their communication, decision making, responsibility and leadership skills, and prepares them to be productive citizens of tomorrow.

Preparing Entrepreneurs for Success

December 2015

Boat

By Holly Abeels, Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent

When Brian, a budding fishing charter entrepreneur, registered at the last minute for the For-Hire Fishing Sector Workshop in Brevard County he wasn’t quite sure what we were offering. He thought “For-Hire” would mean there would be job opportunities for guides and people just starting out. As it happens, we could provide Brian with a bit more. Our workshop was designed to provide him with the tools to create his own opportunities.

Our workshop featured guest speakers covering business planning, social media marketing, local marketing opportunities, fisheries monitoring, and various opportunities for guides to participate in fisheries research and best practices. More importantly, we offered Brian the opportunity to make valuable business contacts that could help him in furthering his business planning such as Rebecca with a local marketing group. She offered tips on local marketing opportunities, but her assistance didn’t stop there. When Brian reached out to her, Rebecca helped him re-design his website and showed him where he could market his business. She also assisted Brian with a contact at Visit Space Coast. As a result, Brian’s rack cards for his business were displayed, and he was offered help to promote the business.

Now Brian has a better idea of the types of opportunities available to him in the community to help him with his business; the various ways he can promote his business; and he has revamped his website. He now feels better prepared to run a successful business right from the start. Brian even provided suggestions to improve further program offerings. He recommended providing a listing of places where guides can promote and market their businesses, free websites, places to list jobs for hire, and more information for guides who are just starting out. Small businesses are an integral part of our local economy, and we look forward to providing entrepreneurs like Brian with the tools to create successful enterprises.

For more information about our Sea Grant and Marine Science programs, contact Holly Abeels Sea Grant Agent, UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County at habeels@ufl.edu or 321.633.1702.

Supporting Our Farmers and Promoting Healthy Living

December 2015

Chef Bearl

By Mel Morgan-Stowell, UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County Community Development Agent

Mary and her husband ran a small business for a number of years in Brevard County, until he was diagnosed with cancer. Although the disease could be treated, the independent business couple found themselves in dire financial straits after a series of crippling medical bills. Eventually, against all of their inclinations, they registered for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). “We never thought we’d be here,” Mary confided when she first visited the Brevard County Farmers Market, a joint program between UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County and Brevard Parks and Recreation. She seemed embarrassed, and almost unwilling to talk about her predicament, or to bring herself to use her SNAP benefits. As we spoke of other county residents…hardworking people who found they needed food assistance because of job loss, health problems, or other circumstances beyond their control…she began to relax. Our explanation of the Florida Organic Growers (FOG) Fresh Access Bucks program actually elicited a smile. She began to understand just how much we value her as a customer and a supporter of local agriculture.

Through the Fresh Access Bucks program grant supplied by FOG, patrons who receive SNAP benefits are provided with a dollar for dollar matched on the purchase of fresh Florida fruits and vegetables, effectively doubling their purchasing power, and providing additional revenue to our local farmers. Mary met our explanation of the program with enthusiasm…and a bit of disbelief, “This is the best! I can’t believe you’re doing this…do you know how expensive food is, even at Walmart? It’s so hard to eat healthy when funds are tight!”

Recently Mary also attended our first ever cooking demonstration by UF/IFAS Chef David Bearl, which was provided through Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant funding. This demonstration and others like it aim to provide all of our patrons with simple, healthy recipes utilizing Fresh Florida produce. Changing perceptions as to the costs and benefits of purchasing local foods through educational programs creates a winning proposition for farmers, patrons, and our local economy. Keeping local dollars in the county is also important to our economic health. A recent economic study from a UF/IFAS found that in 2012-13 through local food channels in Florida, $1.26 was returned to local communities in valued added or GDP per each dollar spent, and $0.78 in labor income per each dollar sale was generated for the local economy. The same study suggested that providing better access to Farmer’s markets and providing education on how to prepare and store local foods would support greater purchasing of local foods (Local Food Systems in Florida: Consumer Characteristics and Economic Impacts. A.W. Hodges, Ph.D. and T. J. Stevens, Ph.D. February 6, 2013).

We view our programs at the Market as the means to educate and assist our patrons, our agricultural producers, and our community…but to put it in the most basics terms, to support valuable community members in their time of need. As another patron noted, “Our SNAP benefits were cut in half in the new Farm bill, and the Fresh Access Bucks program is the difference between having food and going without.” We are dedicated to making that precise difference in our community.

For more information contact Mel Morgan-Stowell, Community Development Agent, UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County at mmorganstowell@ufl.edu or 321.633.1702.

Teaching Sound Financial Practices and Helping Families

December 2015

Money

By Gayle Whitworth, UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent

Nicole, a single mother, entered the Resident Opportunities and Self-Sufficiency (ROSS) program in May of 2012. This federally funded program serves public housing and house choice voucher residents in an effort to increase their earned income and reduce their dependency on welfare assistance and rental subsidies. The program offers opportunities for education, job training, counseling, and other forms of social service assistance to help residents obtain skills needed for self-sufficiency. When Nicole entered the ROSS program, she was unemployed and attending school. Her goal was to move out of public housing and to own her own home, as well as to improve her employment situation, and in turn, to improve her income.

Through the ROSS program, Nicole was able to attend a budgeting class offered by the UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County office in January 2013. The class taught Nicole how to track her income and spending on a monthly basis to meet her current needs and the importance of saving to meet her goals. Nicole used her new budgeting skills and was able to pre-qualify with a lender and meet the conditions of home ownership though Habitat for Humanity. On December 6, 2014, Nicole was able to move into her new home and thus fulfill her dream of home ownership.

Quality financial literacy programs help individuals practice good financial behaviors which, over time, can result in positive changes in their financial lives. Tracking income and expenses (budgeting), saving, and practicing other sound financial behaviors can lead to improved financial outcomes. Changes made as a result of financial education can include an increase in assets, a decrease in liabilities, an increase in net worth, reduced financial distress, and improved financial (and overall) well-being. When made, these changes allow individuals to become better able to succeed financially, reach their financial goals, and have a more secure future.

For more information contact Gayle Whitworth, Family & Consumer Sciences Agent, UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County at: gowhit@ufl.edu or 321.633.1702.

Extension Advisory Council

Advisory Councils are an important part of Extension. Advisory Council members advise faculty on program needs within the community and share successes with others in the county and community.

Advisory Council