Find out more about the Hastings Agricultural Extension Center, UF/IFAS’s new demonstration unit.
The face of Florida is changing rapidly every day. New housing developments are mushrooming all over the state, sending land values skyrocketing and taking over agricultural lands. To mitigate the negative effects of this trend--including lowered water quality, higher energy demands, and the loss of local agribusiness--UF/IFAS Extension, together with numerous partners, has developed a demonstration unit at the site of a former research and education center in Hastings. The sixty-five-acre site shows farmers, policy makers, and homeowners how the future of Florida can include responsible resource management, a diverse economy, and a high quality of life.
This endeavor, known as the Hastings Agricultural Extension Center, was conceived by a coalition of local farmers, business leaders, and politicians in 2004 as a way to address growth issues that were affecting northeast Florida, one of the fastest growing areas in the nation.
Although the impetus for the project was regional, said operations director Scott Taylor, "the issues that seem specific to this region are really a common thread throughout the state. The HAEC is a great way to look at how we as a state are going to manage incredibly rapid rates of growth and all the issues that come along with that growth."
The unit serves several audiences and performs multiple functions. The center will use "living" displays to teach extension clientele alternatives, such as low-impact development (LID), Florida-friendly landscaping principles, and alternative crops, as well as, traditional practices in agriculture, landscaping, water quality and use, and land management.
"This is another way University of Florida Extension can create and provide Floridians with solutions in sustainability," said Taylor. "We live in Florida for the quality of life, but we need to be careful to safeguard that quality of life."
Alternative agriculture crops (such as muscadine grapes and peach orchards) will be grown on the site to give options to farmers looking to replace the traditional crops of the area (sod, potatoes) with more cost-effective, profitable crops.
"Agriculture is an important part of Florida. Not only is it the state’s number two industry, but the natural and managed landscapes of farms and ranches provide invaluable environmental services, including wildlife habitat," said Taylor. "Alternative crops can make everyone winners, by providing farmers with more income on smaller farms and creating a less controversial interface between agriculture and residential developments."
Home & Neighborhood Landscaping
Other areas of the unit utilize Florida Yards & Neighborhoods (FYN) principles to give developers and homeowners ideas about "Florida-friendly" yards, which utilize low-maintenance plantings and responsible water use. Florida-friendly yards reduce stormwater runoff, conserve water, reduce water pollution, and enhance wildlife habitat.
The units concrete sidewalks have been replaced with permeable materials that allow rainwater to flow through them instead of across them. This kind of filtration ensures cleaner water enters waterways. A rain garden captures and filters water coming off one building’s downspouts, and the downspouts of other buildings flow into rain cisterns for later use. Everywhere at the unit, the way water moves through the landscape is studied and measured.
"Water runs off our private properties and into the public realm, connecting us all," said Mark Clark, who is coordinating the demonstration unit’s stormwater- and wetlands-related efforts. Demonstrations conducted at the Hastings site explore ways to improve water runoff management practices, said Clark, who is also an assistant professor of soil and water science at UF.
The demonstration unit is open to visitors all year, and visitors include school groups, homeowners, agricultural producers, civic groups, and policymakers, said Taylor.
An old rail line that runs adjacent to the site is now a part of the national rails-to-trails program, and when that area gets developed, Clark suggested, the demonstration unit will be a natural stopover or educational destination for trail users.
The HAEC partnership involves partners from the state to local levels, including the St. John’s Water Management District, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, local farmers, and city and county governments in Flagler, Putnam, and St. John’s counties.
Other partners include the University’s Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program, Program for Resource Efficient Communities and Soil and Water Sciences, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Horticultural Sciences, Entomology and Nematology, Plant Pathology, and Agronomy departments.
For more information about the University of Florida’s efforts in sustainability, visit www.sustainable.ufl.edu. For information about how you live more sustainably, visit www.SolutionsForYourLife.com.
Written by Sarah Graddy
(Revised by Scott Taylor, Director of Operations, 09/2012) (Revised by Sarah Prodromou, 11/2015)