Posts Tagged ‘UF/IFAS’

Hey there Redland Ramblers! This is guest blogger Melissa Contreras, founder of Urban Oasis Project. Last night, a group of Redland and Miami farmers and I returned home after a weekend at the 2nd Small Farms/Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee.  I have always been a farmer wannabe, and as such, I grow food for my family, my pet bunnies,  and a few friends on my 1/4 acre “urban homestead” in Kendall.  I was happy to learn at the conference that this small scale of growing is now being officially considered as part of our local food system, as it should be! The University of Florida/IFAS Extension isn’t just for big farmers and agribusiness, we little people count too!

Cast of characters on this road trip included Bee Heaven Farmer Margie, husband Nick, their new farm manager Jane;  Muriel of Little River Market Garden, Mario of Guara Ki Farm, and me.  Meeting up at Bee Heaven Farm, we shared a ride in Margie’s van, and took the scenic route around the shores of Lake Okeechobee on US 27. It was beautiful! Cows and egrets mingled in green pastures, Nick spotted a sandhill crane, and tri-color herons searched for underwater snacks near the water’s edge. Along the way, through what was once a river of grass, we saw fields of sugarcane (some organic), and picturesque views which reminded me that while South Florida is often thought of as a metropolitan built environment,  it still belongs to Mother Nature, though altered. Hopefully Everglades restoration will return the river of grass to its rightful owner.

After 4 hours on the road, we arrived  and checked into our hotel, the posh and sophisticated Super 8. Hey, we’re on a budget, OK?  I shared a suite with Margie, Nick, and Jane.  After repeated promises to Jane that I would not confuse her with my husband in the middle of the night, she decided to sleep on the couch.  But, I digress.  We had a nice lunch in restored historic downtown Kissimmee, an old cowboy town with a lovely lakefront, unique and colorful wooden homes with gingerbread mill work, unusual eateries and watering holes like ” The Wicked Stepsister,” a nice antique shop,  and so much more. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, take a break from the Orlando area tourist traps and visit this authentic town.

After lunch, we proceeded to the Osceola Heritage Center, site of the next day’s convention, for meetings of the Greater Everglades Foodshed Alliance, the Florida Food Policy Council, and a pre-conference pow-wow with Extension agents from all over Florida. The Greater Everglades Foodshed Alliance meeting was a recap of the Food Summit for interested parties.  The Florida Food Policy Council will “bring together stakeholders from diverse food-related sectors to examine how the food system is operating and to develop recommendations on how to improve it. FPCs may take many forms, but are typically either commissioned by state or local government, or predominately a grassroots effort. Food policy councils have been successful at educating officials and the public, shaping public policy, improving coordination between existing programs, and starting new programs.” (definition from foodsecurity.org). We are forming a soon-to-be Miami food policy council. (Contact Mario if you have a stake in our local food system and want to participate in this new effort.)

Those who attended the informal Friday meetings were also invited to sit in on the pre-conference event for UF/IFAS Extension agents, in which  Dr. Danielle Treadwell, Dr. Mickey Swisher, and Sarasota Extension’s new Director and doctoral candidate Evangeline “Van” Linkous  talked about our changing food system from their different points of view and varying expertise.  Dr. Treadwell champions UF research in organic and sustainable farming, and feels that “educating consumers is an important part of what we do.”  Dr. Swisher said she was surprised to discover the “30 mile problem” in which  “disadvantaged communities in Florida’s urban areas often live 30-40 miles from areas where fresh produce is grown.”  Van’s background is in planning and she was a member of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Council before coming back to Florida from Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania. She feels that much urban zoning could be converted to mixed-use, which could mean urban farms and farm stands could be located within high-density urban populations, giving urbanites more access to local, fresh food. A kindred spirit! We are quite lucky to have these three women in Extension.

So, if you’re catching on to a theme here, the conference tagline was “Sustaining Small Farms…Strengthening Florida’s Communities.”  There was much excitement among attendees on that Friday before the conference, seeing our major research institutions catching onto interests of so many people in local food,  and food justice as a paradigm shift from our current system. Further illustrating this point is the choice of keynote speaker for the conference: my personal hero, Will Allen, founder of  Growing Power, Inc.

I will write more about Saturday of the conference in the next post:  keynote speaker Will Allen, the three Florida Innovative Farmer Award winners, conference workshops, amazing local foods lunch and more! Come back  for more, including pictures!

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Avocado tree infected with laurel wilt. The fungus carried by the beetle causes entire branches to turn brown and die. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.

If you have avocado trees growing in your yard, heads up! The feared redbay ambrosia beetle has surfaced in west Miami-Dade County, in Emerald Lakes. One beetle was caught in a trap on March 2. Scientists are testing the captured bug to see if it carries a fungus that kills avocado trees (and others in the bay family) by causing a fatal wilt. There was a scare last summer, but that proved to be a false alarm. This time it looks like the real threat has arrived.

Florida Dept. of Agriculture recommendations for homeowners:

The public can help prevent the spread of the redbay ambrosia beetle and laurel wilt disease by following these simple suggestions:

— Become familiar with the signs of laurel wilt disease and redbay ambrosia beetle and be on the lookout for evidence of the pest/disease on your trees. http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/pi/enpp/pathology/laurel_wilt_disease.html

— Use local firewood only. Do not transport firewood from other states because destructive pests and diseases, such as redbay ambrosia beetle and laurel wilt, can hitchhike into Florida on infested firewood. http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/pi/videos.html

— Do not transport host trees (redbay, swamp bay, avocado, sassafras, pondspice, pondberry and others in the Lauraceae family) unless purchased from a registered nursery.

— If your Lauraceae-family tree dies, use one of UF/IFAS’s recommended methods of disposal.

People who suspect their trees might be infected with laurel wilt or think they have found a redbay ambrosia beetle are urged to contact the DPI helpline at 1-888-397-1517.

People who would like to submit a plant or insect sample, visit this web site for sample submission instructions http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/pi/enpp/pathology/laurel_wilt_disease.html

Know your foe: redbay ambrosia beetle. Actual size is about half a grain of rice. Courtesy UF/IFAS.

Discovery of ambrosia beetle in Miami-Dade no cause for panic, scientists say

Last summer, there was a premature announcement of the presence of a tiny beetle that has the power to spread fungus that can severely damage avocado trees. That turned out to be an unfortunate mistake, triggering some growers to cut down and burn trees and apply pesticide.

This month, there’s no mistaking it: One redbay ambrosia beetle was found in a trap in west-central Miami-Dade County on March 2.

But scientists say a single beetle shouldn’t scare Miami-Dade growers — whose trees cover nearly 7,000 acres of South Florida — just yet.

“It’s not cause for panic, thank God,” said Jonathan Crane, a tropical-fruit plant specialist with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences in Homestead.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Chilling out

I’m starting to get overwhelmed by my CSA share. Opened the refrigerator door and all I saw is a sea of green in plastic zipper bags. What was I thinking when I signed on to eat a full share all by myself?? (In full disclosure, I eat what I shoot. The share I photograph goes home with me as compensation.)

Every other week I make “clean out the frig” soup. Last weekend it was a good way to use up the bunch of Greenwise organic celery bought at Publix only three days before the share. (Really, what was I thinking? During season, Publix is best for non-veg staples.) Chopped up that whole bunch to make celery soup, threw in a few stray potatoes and carrots, and chopped up an onion, too. Simmered it in homemade vegetable stock. Was pretty good topped with chopped tofu, cilantro and a drizzle of sesame oil and a dash of hot sauce.

Don’t laugh! Gourmet chef I’m not, nor pretend to be. Just trying to keep ahead of things wilting or going bad. When they do, and it’s happened a few times already, I can hear Margie’s voice or Eva Worden’s voice scolding me about how hard they worked to grow that food for me. (No, I don’t usually hear voices. That’s some leftover Catholic guilt rattling around.)

Made room in the freezer next to leftover soup, and am starting to fill it with plastic zipper bags of blanched veggies. Found information on the UF IFAS Extension website, including a chart of detailed instructions on how to handle various vegetables. First you blanch (or cook briefly in boiling water), chill, then pack and label and store in the freezer. (If you have a garden, or have been a serious cook for a long time, you already know how to do this.) Doesn’t take that long, either. As my dad would say, waste not want not. I think I’m ready for the next share!

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This summer, there was great concern among commercial avocado growers in Redland (including Bee Heaven Farm) about the apparent discovery of the redbay ambrosia beetle, which rapidly kills avocado trees, and has been located in North and Central Florida. At least one tree in Redland was suspected of infestation and was burned. UF/IFAS held a workshop (which was blogged) giving information about the beetle and laurel wilt, the lethal fungal infection that it causes.

If you have avocado trees on your property in town, don’t think you’re immune. Learn what the signs are and watch your trees carefully. There’s good information at Save The Guac and the UF/IFAS sites.

Farmer Margie told me in summer that she will take a wait and see attitiude with her grove. Both she and Gabriele Marewski of Paradise Farms (who also raises avocados) are cautiously optimistic that a healthy, unstressed tree may not get infested and die. So far so good, fingers crossed.

Here’s a good follow-up article about the situation, published in the Miami Herald on Dec 26th.

Avocado growers fear spread of Asian redbay ambrosia beetle

After enjoying a season of near record-high avocado prices, farmers of Florida’s second-largest tropical fruit crop are now worried about a potentially deadly invasive pest.



This year’s avocado season is making farmers happy: The 920,000-bushel crop, grown mostly in southern Miami-Dade County, is fetching prices that are almost 50 percent better than a few years ago. But as the season comes to a close, those in the Florida avocado industry are casting a wary eye to Martin County, where the redbay ambrosia beetle continues its march southward.

Growers, scientists, and the local, state and federal governments are in a race against the beetle as it makes its way south to the $30 million avocado industry.

The beetle, believed to be a native of Asia, is described by scientists as smaller than Lincoln’s nose on the penny. But it carries a fungus that has proved lethal to many trees in the laurel family, including redbays and avocados, from the Carolinas through Georgia, and now Florida. There is no method to cure the disease.

After citrus, avocados are Florida’s largest tropical-fruit industry. This year’s crop was more than 50 million pounds, virtually all of that grown on 7,500 acres in Miami-Dade.

“The avocado industry is very concentrated in one area,” said Craig Wheeling, president of Brooks Tropical in Homestead, one of the largest growers, packers and shippers of Florida avocados. “It’s kind of an all-or-nothing fight down here.”

Wheeling said his best avocados were getting about $16 a bushel — 45 percent better than the $11-a-bushel prices three years ago. He attributed the higher prices to not just a smaller crop, but to growing demand for Florida avocados. And he said that’s what makes it even more crucial that scientists find a way to combat the beetle and the fungus-causing disease it carries.

Females carry the fungus spores in a special pouch within their mouths. When the insects bore into a healthy tree to check if it would be suitable for nesting, the tree is inoculated with fungi that cause a disease called laurel wilt. As it spreads, the tree’s water system is disrupted, causing the leaves to wilt so quickly they don’t even fall off.

The larvae and adult females feed off the fungus — essentially, the beetle carries its farming system with it, said Jonathan Crane, a tropical-fruit plant specialist with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences in Homestead.

There are dozens of varieties of beetles that have a symbiotic relationship with a fungus it carries. The one beetle/fungus combination that has proved deadly to the redbay and Florida avocado tree is a specific variety with the scientific name raffaelea lauricola. It was first detected in Georgia in 2002.

It took a few years to spread through Georgia and was first found in Florida’s northern counties in 2005. On its own, the beetle can fly about 20 miles.

It has spread exponentially quicker the past two years to Central Florida, experts believe, because diseased trees have been cut down for firewood and brought south.

In late July, the local industry panicked after the state issued a press release saying a confirmed case of the beetle had been found in a Homestead grove.

Growers, including Brooks, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to cut down and burn trees that looked weak or infected, and to spray groves with extra pesticides.

That initial test proved to be a false positive because the science behind tracking and typing the fungus is just developing, said University of Florida forest pathologist Jason Smith. The beetle and fungus have never been studied in Asia, where it is believed to come from, because trees there haven’t died.

“Nobody had ever looked at this,” Smith said.

It took weeks to confirm that the disease hadn’t reached Miami-Dade. Even so, the industry remains on guard.

“It’s still a threat,” said Miami-Dade County’s agricultural manager Charles LaPradd. “What I would love to say is that it will never get down here, but that’s fantasyland.”

Local growers say what happened this summer was a test.

The summer scare caused growers to start regular meetings with local, state and federal agriculture officials and scientists, who said they are close to a method that would confirm the disease in a day or so.

Most of the research is being spearheaded by the University of Florida, which received a $1.2 million USDA grant to find a way to beat the beetle.

One possible method might involve sterilizing the large equipment that is used within groves to prune trees, Smith said. Others are looking at the natural resistance that has been found in Asia and among some local varieties of trees. Additional research is going into fungicides that need to receive federal approval before being used.

In the meantime, the state agriculture department has also started a marketing campaign based on one of the fruit’s most popular uses, guacamole, at www.savetheguac.com. It’s designed to help educate the public about moving firewood and how to spot diseased trees.

“There are tens of thousands of backyard avocado trees in South Florida,” said state agriculture spokesman Mark Fagan.

“We can’t go into every backyard and inspect every avocado tree — we need the public’s help.”

© 2009 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved. http://www.miamiherald.com

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If you have only one avocado tree in your yard, or a grove full, come get the latest information on the laurel wilt disease. It was spotted in Northern Florida earlier this year, and this summer in a grove in Redland. If the disease spreads, it could wipe out not only commercial groves but also backyard trees. I’ve blogged earlier about this in more detail the post titled Avocados are threatened.

Dr. Jonathan Crane of UF IFAS/TREC will lead the Laurel Wilt Disease and Redbay Ambrosia Beetle Research Symposium on Tuesday, November 3, 2009 from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM. Download the agenda here (PDF 60 KB).

Miami-Dade County Cooperative Extension Service Auditorium
18710 SW 288th Street, Homestead, FL 33030-2309.

Driving Directions:
Traveling south on the Florida Turnpike (Homestead Extenstion), take Exit #5 (Biscayne Drive / SW 288th Street), and go west for about 5 miles. The Extension Office is at the corner of SW 288th Street and SW 187th Avenue (Redland Road), on the left. It is a one-story, beige, block building.

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