The city of Newberry was in the Florida spotlight three times last week.
On Nov. 30, the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County and Ag Auditorium building drew past and present elected officials from the county and Newberry plus remarks from UF President Dr. Kent Fuchs, UF/IFAS Dean for Extension Dr. Andra Johnson and UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension Director Dr. Cynthia Sanders.
“This has been many, many years coming, actually decades in the making,” Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman said about the project.
Alachua County Board of County Commisioners (BOCC) Chair Marihelen Wheeler then spoke.
“I can’t think of a better time to be chair,” she said about the timing. “It’s an exciting place to be,” she said. “I am in the company of dreamers and doers.
“The promise is for 4-H, Master Gardeners, Rural Concerns, especially our Extensions staff and we’re finally cutting the ribbon on this state-of-the-art Extension office and auditorium.”
Wheeler thanked former commissioner Lee Pinkoson for his vision of building an ag center in Newberry and the financial support behind it.
“Thank you City of Newberry for purchasing this property and leasing it to Alachua County for 99 years and for investing $1 million toward this project,” Wheeler said, “And the State of Florida for providing a $400,000 Department of Agriculture grant.”
Fuchs called it an “incredible, beautiful facility,” and thanked elected officials who approved the funding and ideas that lead to the building of the extension office and auditorium adjacent to the Alachua County Agriculture and Equestrian Center.
“The city of Newberry has a bold and far-reaching vision,” Fuch said about it’s commitment to agriculture.
Fuchs noted that UF/IFAS Extension operates in all 67 counties in Florida.
“Extension is vital to the future of our state,” he said, adding farmers, businesses, homeowners and governments rely on the research, resources and expertise of the extension agents. “It’s an essential resource for young Floridians who grow and learn because of 4-H and educational programs in these facilities.
“Our university is a public institution with the unique mission of education that makes a positive, profound difference across our state and across our planet. IFAS Extension carries forward that mission every day.”
Two days later on Dec. 2, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried spoke at the same facility about the state of agriculture in Florida and followed that with a press conference about her initiative to eliminate the use of polystyrene, a lightweight foam often used for takeout food that she said takes 500 years to decompose.
Fried said that when she attended UF it was clear how important agriculture is from the many IFAS efforts you saw on campus.
“As commissioner, the relationship between agriculture and IFAS is part of a three-legged stool. It’s the department, it is the industry, and it’s IFAS,” she said. “And without all three working in conjunction together, it doesn’t work.”
Fried said her goal since becoming commissioner is to, “make Florida the Silicon Valley in the East for agriculture technology. We feed over 250 million people a year from our agriculture.”
On Saturday, Newberry and the visitors, staff, volunteers and representatives from Florida Department of Environmental Protect (FDEP) and Florida Park Service celebrated the addition of Dudley Farm Historic State Park to the list of National Historic Landmarks.
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe served as the emcee of the designation ceremony that drew about 200 people and featured the Dudley Farm Town Band.
The park was in full function with woodworking, sugar cane harvest, cooking and farming techniques on display.
Dudley Farm manager for the Florida Park Service Dennis Parson said he was lucky to be there.
“The little things we take for granted every day, something as simple as hot water,” he said about the working homestead and farm. “People had to work hard for that and you’ll see that today. [Dudley Farm] is a special unique treasure we have here to be able to see how people used to live.”
FDEP Bureau Chief Cliff Maxwell then spoke about how rare national landmarks are in Florida.
“There are less than 50 National Historic Landmarks in Florida,” he said, adding that 10 are managed by the Florida Parks Service. “Our job is to preserve these and to tell their stories for future generations.”
He thanked community leaders and volunteers who worked to advocate for Dudley Farm and put in the work for the landmark applications so that the U.S Department of Interior could make the recognition official.
Marlowe told the crowd that Newberry officially annexed Dudley Farm recently but it has always been considered part of the community.
“You’ve probably lived your whole life thinking that Dudley Farm is in the city of Newberry,” he said. “But it actually was not true until very recently.
“And I want to thank the park rangers for their work. They have been invaluable in helping us close that gap and bring Dudley back home. We’ve always known it was in the city of Newberry, now it’s just technically in the city of Newberry.”
As a National Historic Landmark (NHL), Dudley Farm Historic State Park has the potential to spur the local economy and will have access grants, according to the National Park Service (NPS). It joins Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park as the second NHL in Alachua County.
“Numerous travel publications feature NHLs,” the NPS website states. “Publicly accessible NHLs may benefit from increased visitation through heritage tourism. National Historic Landmark properties are often featured in the National Park Service’s Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itineraries, a resource used by many travelers.”
Marlowe was at all the events and said, “The City of Newberry is so excited to have hosted the state in our community three times last week. The opening of the IFAS Conference center and Extension Offices, followed immediately by a visit from our Commissioner of Agriculture, and then, to top it all off, we became home to just the second National Historic Landmark site in our County. Newberry is shining across our state, and we all have reasons to be proud of our community.”