In all the traveling I’ve done in my career, I’ve never been greeted with finish-line tape, “Chariots of Fire” playing on a public address system, a 4-H’er hanging a medal around my neck and a state map cake with a different color frosting on every county.

 

When I became leader of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in July 2020, I announced my intention to visit Extension offices in all 67 counties. I fulfilled that pledge on April 8 in Lake City by breaking the tape at the Columbia County Extension office.

 

What made the day extra meaningful was Ginger Delegal’s message from the lectern. Ginger was the only person at the event—and perhaps one of the few anywhere—who fully appreciates what it means to visit all 67 counties.

 

She spoke of the partnership between the Florida Association of Counties and UF/IFAS to run the Advanced County Commissioner and Certified County Commissioner programs.

 

“Governing from a place of knowledge allows Florida communities to solve their own problems and create their own opportunities,” Delegal said.

 

That’s a great encapsulation of the UF/IFAS mission in the counties. We equip Florida’s citizens, whether they are elected officials or their constituents, with the science-based information they need to improve their lives and their communities.

 

As Ginger testified in Lake City, this can’t be done cookie-cutter-style:

 

“You’re everywhere in the state in every single county providing knowledge and training and consulting on subject matters and life skills that are unique to each county. No other organization is present in every single county in this way,” she said.

 

Again, she nailed it.

 

Extension simply doesn’t exist as we know it without the partnership with the counties. I’m grateful to Ginger and FAC for strengthening that partnership. I hope to see you at the conference in Orlando this summer.