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Recalibrating the Extension

September 13, 2013
By JOYCE COMINGORE ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Right now, I'm too befuddled by the recent proposed changes to the Lee Coutnty Extension, to think. I went to the County Commissioner's budget hearing last Wednesday, Sept. 4, and spoke. They say it's not the final cut, but when we've been cut in the proposals by 92 percent, we can only hope to go up a little which will be too little, too late. Over 100 supporters attended this meeting and packed the room and balcony. After Extension supporters spoke, I understand the thinking now is more favorable to the Extension. Anyway we look at it though, Rutenberg Eco-Living Center is gone, a gathering place for organizations and The Mangrove Eco Caf. The Garden Council had a marvelous flower and exhibit show there last May .

We are still struggling to hold onto Terry Park's Extension Building, the heart and soul of Extension for a decade; its budget will be shifted to a different department. Rutenburg will sit empty. Currently there are seven Lee County agents at the Extension. Two of our beloved agents, one a horticulture agent and one a family and consumer science agent, are gone at the end of September. The good news is, we have moved from the one agent kept, to five of the seven scents remaining in various capacities. Two agents being placed elsewhere, the sea grant agent used to be funded at 40 percent, will now be funded 100 percent by the university; and 4-H is being absorbed by the Parks and Recreation, not with an agent, but with a fully funded director in Parks and Recreation. Three remaining agents, Stephen Brown county head agent, the Ag and natural resources agent and one family and consumer sciences agent, will remain, funded 40 percent by county dollars, 60 percent by University of Florida dollars.

The final budget hearing will be Wednesday, Sept. 18. Why such a disproportionate cutting of one department amazes me. Parks and Recreation, under which the Extension operates, underestimates the needs to be considered in handling our citizens' questions relating to gardening, financial and general well being.

We were all allotted 3 minutes to speak and some marvelous speakers extolled the many virtues of having an Extension. It started at 5 p.m. and I spoke after 9:30. Five hours of 3-minute speeches. I felt that mentioning all the ways they benefited me would water down my message, so I purely spoke to the basic history that gave every citizen the rights given them by our National Congress.

I said, "Basically, as you know, our forefathers knew the importance of an institute to meet our agriculture needs. The National Congress enacted the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, forming land grant institutions in every state and territory of the United States of America. Florida has two - The University of Florida and FAMU. This was to ensure that an education in agriculture, military tactics and mechanical arts, as well as the classical studies was available to the working classes for a practical education.

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the Cooperative Extension Service in connection with the land grant universities, to maintain contact with every citizen of the United States.

Our forefathers, national legislators, deemed this an educational institution that provides a direct relevancy to our daily lives, an important issue.

We are presently seeing an upsurge in urban gardening (I am involved in the Trafalgar Middle School garden) and small farming, as well as needs in our homes that our ancestors realized needed to be met. This is our heritage.

I write horticulture articles for the Cape Coral Breeze. All of you have received at least one article, and I thank those of you who took the time to answer. I need the University of Florida available here. Our citizens' well-being needs the university here. Our founders knew something that needs to be remembered here. Don't deny us our heritage! Thank you."

As concerned as I am about this, I am still trying to stay involved in Trafalgar Middle Schools Gardens every weekend. The seedlings are doing nicely and I fed them all with Miracle Gro this last weekend. I say gardens, plural, because Al has added three other small gardens, near the classrooms. We want visual plants there to see and ones the students can nibble on as they walk by.

They are still filling the main bed with garden soil and organic soil. Mulch is in the walkways. The overhead sprinklers are working; it's one way the workers can cool off periodically. We concluded at 11:30 a.m. I'm excited about the variety of plants we have. The lemon yellow ball cucumbers, Pic-n-Pot Peas that grow 10 inches high and hang down with regular size pea pods, chocolate tomatoes and yellow zucchini are all some of the unusual varieties I'm anxious to see grow. We have seeds to fill the holes in the concrete blocks used for raised beds. Those go up this weekend. Watching the seedlings grow fills us with anticipation and they want to plant them now but they need to wait until that second set of true leaves appear.

So far we haven't gotten flooded out, what with the heavy rains and storms we're having. It's been blowing the seedling pots around a bit. The men were putting up the sign, Trafalgar Middle School Builder's Club Garden, along the side road, as I left. What everyone will be learning is patience. As hard as they've been working, they want produce now.

When I moved here over 30 years ago, a county agent from the other coast claimed it was cheaper to buy your produce than grow it here. The self-satisfaction of doing it yourself seems to add to the flavor.

The next commissioners' and final budget meeting will be next Wednesday, Sept. 18. We'll see what's left of the Extension - and my stomach - after Oct. 1.

Until then, you'll find me hugging a tree extra hard and thanking it for my fresh air.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, Federated Garden Club member and hibiscus enthusiast.



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