UPDATE: Mayor Gimenez is coming to Homestead to meet with the community!
An additional Town Hall Meeting was recently scheduled for August 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm. The address is: William Dickinson Community Center, 1601 Krome Avenue, Homestead FL.
By now you’ve already heard that the new Miami-Dade County Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, is cutting the county budget. When it comes to local agriculture, these cuts could run very deep.
To slash an estimated $1.2 million from the county’s general operating fund, over $700,000 for UF/IFAS Extension Services was proposed to be gutted. If county funding is drastically cut, Extension will lose matching funds from University of Florida. To shave off another $300,000 in the budget, the county Agricultural Manager’s office would be completely eliminated.
Cuts to Extension
Since the Palmetto Bay Town Hall meeting on August 9th, Mayor Gimenez said he would reinstate full funding to Extension, and partial funding for the Agricultural Manager. (However, it is unclear what “full funding” means for Extension, since its budget was cut by 20% back in 2009 by former mayor Carlos Alvarez, and never completely restored since then.)
The originally proposed budget cuts put some Extension programs at risk of disappearing, and crippled others. At risk were a number of important consumer and agriculture programs that have a huge impact on the community, such as the 4H youth leadership program, and various consumer services for low income families and seniors.
Both the urban horticulture program assistant position, and the Commercial Agriculture and Horticulture programs were threatened with elimination. These programs provide ongoing training and certification for vegetable and fruit growers, landscapers and nurserymen. Growers would have to spend extra money to travel to other counties to get their industry-required training.
Ongoing workshops and seminars for commercial farmers were slated to be completely wiped out. This is the heart and soul of Extension, which teams up with UF researchers to provide growers the latest information how to fight diseases and pests (like the red bay ambrosia beetle which threatens the avocado industry), new methods of production, and new varieties of plants and crops.
Also on the chopping block was the county Agriculture Manager. The job is currently held by Charles LaPradd, a fourth generation local grower who acts as the liason between county government and local growers. His voice is the only one in local government speaking up for the county’s $2.7 billion industry in this county. (That’s only second to tourism in income in Miami-Dade.) In the space of six years, the Ag Manager brought in almost $7 million in grant funding used to support and promote local agriculture.
Among many projects, one of the most visible was the Redland Raised campaign, designed to get branding and recognition for locally grown food in Publix supermarkets. Charles was involved in the push to pass three new county ordinances last year that promote B&B’s and agritourism, and allow growers to make and sell jams, pickles and other value added products.
Be the voice
The current budget proposal is only preliminary. It can and has already been changed. Bowing to pressure from a vocal showing at a packed Town Hall meeting in Palmetto Bay last week, Mayor Gimenez has already reversed his stance.
Go and make your voice heard in person! Mayor Gimenez is holding a series of Town Hall meetings through the month of August, at various places around the county. It’s rumored that the mayor said the squeaking wheel will get the grease, so word to the wise, get out there and squeak speak!
The remaining meetings are listed below:
Location: Miami Art Museum, 101 West Flagler Street, Miami, FL 33130
Time: 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Location: Coral Gables Country Club, 997 North Greenway Drive, Coral Gables, FL 33134
Time: 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Location: Hialeah Senior High School, 251 East 47th Street, Hialeah, FL 33013
Time: 7:00pm – 8:00pm
If you can’t make it to a Town Hall omeeting, contact Carlos Gimenez’s office at:
Office of the Mayor
Stephen P. Clark Center
111 NW 1st Street
Miami, FL 33128
However, the commissioners still need to vote on the proposed budget, and there’s a good chance their vote could still reduce or eliminate funding. There will be two public hearings, on September 8th and September 22nd, at Commission Chambers in the Stephen P. Clark Center in downtown Miami. Next comes the commisioners’ final approval for the budget. You can find a list of commissioners and their contact information here.
Locavores, this is not the time to be complacent and think the worst is over. Don’t sit back and watch support and resources dwindle for your local farmers and fellow citizens. Educate your commissioners on how important Extension and the Ag Manager are to local agriculture — and the local food scene. You still have time to let them know how the budget cuts will also impact your eating choices or your business.
Download the proposed FY 2011-12 budget from the county web site.
Download an intelligent and passionate editorial written by Mike Dill, re the impact of cuts to ag services, which was recently published in the South Dade News-Leader.