Hurricane Irma didn’t change what UF/IFAS does. It revealed it.
We help Floridians bounce back. Our job is to give Floridians greater control over their destiny.
Mother Nature just tried to impose destiny upon us. UF/IFAS employees helped people seize back control. The men and women of this great land-grant university did not do it to be heroes. It’s simply what they do as Gators.
We estimate that UF/IFAS directly touches more than 15 million people a year. That includes downloads of EDIS documents, Extension classes, drop-in visits to our 67 county Extension offices, agents’ consultations on farms, lab IDs of the bugs people find in their homes and gardens, and more.
I don’t know how we’ll count this year.
How do you quantify how many people were touched by UF/IFAS Putnam/Flagler County Extension Director Sharon Treen keeping emergency responders fed? In four stormy days she worked 60 hours, including 34 straight. She slept for only three hours during the marathon shift, on an air mattress in a conference room.
How do you count Department of Horticultural Sciences Chairman Kevin Folta leaving the lab and leading dozens of students to restake 24 acres of a Pasco County grower’s blueberry plants knocked over by the hurricane? How do you count Clay County 4-H kids donating club funds to the flooded-out family of two of their members?
In Homestead, a maintenance specialist named Jorge Vergel saved hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars by fixing a generator in the middle of the storm. It provided the power to keep years-long agricultural experiments alive. Again, I don’t know how to count that.
During the days before Federal Emergency Management Agency relief arrived, Extension dairy agent Colleen Larson cooked her own food and delivered it to dairy workers in Okeechobee County. Her deliveries assured that workers’ families were taken care of while the workers themselves continued caring for thousands of cows.
Do I count just the workers she fed? Their families, too? Or everyone who still has a job at the dairies?
Gene McAvoy has been doing counting of his own. Since Irma, he has tirelessly toured fields, greenhouses, and groves with a camera phone and a note pad to document crop losses. He is already a legendary South Florida Extension agent, and the credibility he has as an honest third-party broker of information will inform FEMA and U.S. Department of Agriculture decisions on disaster relief.
During the storm, we got news that for the first time UF had achieved a top-10 public university ranking in a certain widely read college ratings guide.
We’re proud of that. Yet so much of what makes UF/IFAS employees special can’t be measured and ranked.
The most meaningful indicator that we’re a great university is how our employees improve the quality of life of the communities we serve every day. That’s especially true on the worst days.