(Note: Hurricane Michael caused widespread devastation across the Southeast after striking the Florida Panhandle Oct. 10. This blog highlights some of the activities of four county Cooperative Extension offices in Florida – only a few of the organizations and countless people who went out of their way to help storm victims get back on their feet and recover their ways of life.)
Unless you’ve lived through disaster, it’s hard to imagine what might go through your mind when first viewing a wrecked home, property, livelihood, and – seemingly – your future. But one thing that countless disaster survivors can do in the aftermath is give thanks to their neighbors in Cooperative Extension who stepped up to help.
Extension professionals and volunteers, from county extension offices on up through state and national levels, help people prepare for disasters of all types and then leap into the fray to assist when crisis strikes. Oftentimes, they are victims of the same disaster, standing should-to-shoulder with their neighbors.
“We are still working on recovery efforts (from Hurricane Michael),” said Pete Vergot, Northwest District Extension director for the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). Examples of Cooperative Extension efforts in Florida include:
Washington County: Assessed damage and checked roads to determine the best ways to get supplies to those in need; picked up and distributed donated supplies, including hay and fencing materials; repaired fences and coordinated volunteer fence repair crews; and communicated with clients about available supplies.
Liberty County: Established the county extension office as a donation warehouse and place where volunteers could come to help. Local 4-H’ers put together “goodie bags” for out-of-town volunteers.
Wakulla County: Recruited volunteers who operated a supply distribution center 12-18 hours per day. To date they have distributed more than 18 semi-truck loads of hurricane supplies.
Holmes County: Worked with industry groups to obtain fencing supplies and equipment, as well as feed and supplies for cattlemen across the Panhandle
According to UF/IFAS economists, Hurricane Michael accounted for $158 million in lost sales revenues to Florida’s ag producers if the storm hadn’t impacted them. That figure includes $80 million in losses to field crops, $55 million to specialty crops, and $23 million to animals and animal products. Florida lost another estimated $147 million from damage to its timber industry. Overall, Hurricane Michael caused about $30 billion in damage and lost economic productivity to the Southeast.
USDA, through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), provides funding and national program leadership to the Cooperative Extension System, while land-grant universities maintain operational control over their state’s extension programs.
NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.