I am proud to be taking this next step on my path. My experience in program development and administration has given me the skills of managing budgets, handling human resources, facilitating collaborations and conflict resolution, and learning how to be an effective changemaker in large institutional bureaucracy. These talents, combined with my passion and dedication to this community have made me an accomplished member of the Alachua County Commission and I am excited about the continued opportunity to serve my community.
Growing up exploring the woods, swamps, and beaches of Virginia and North Carolina gave me a deep love and respect for the natural world. While digging in the garden with my mother and playing in the creeks behind my house, I learned about the importance of protecting our natural resources and the impact of our everyday lives. This led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Marine Biology at UNC Wilmington. I decided to pursue my master’s degree and found the University of Florida. As soon as I arrived in Gainesville, FL in 2000 to visit the University of Florida, I knew I wanted to call it home.
All throughout my education, I focused on learning the ways I could communicate my life lessons about our connection with nature and inspire this passion to others. I got my Master’s Degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, with a Certificate in Tropical Conservation and Development. After finishing school, I decided to pursue the idea of community-based natural resources management and international development as a career and signed up for the Peace Corps. Two years on a tiny island in Vanuatu in the middle of the Pacific gave me many gifts.
The decision to come back to the place I had fallen in love with while paddling the Santa Fe River, swimming in Blue Spring, and hiking Payne’s Prairie – Alachua County. I began to pursue work that would allow me to help protect these precious waters, and first did environmental consulting work around wetlands and then worked for the St. Johns Water Management District and Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, running the Watershed Education Program.
While doing this, I was volunteering with school gardens and community organizations that were focused on food. This work eventually led to a full-time job helping to establish the first Office of Sustainability at UF, which started Carbon Neutrality and Zero Waste programs on campus. During this time, I also collaborated with a group of people to begin a chapter of Slow Food USA in Gainesville. This organization, dedicated to “good, clean, fair food for all,” is working to transform the way we produce, consume, and enjoy food. I was thrilled to find an organization that married these two issues and could help me explore the ways I could live my values in my everyday decisions about food.
2009 brought big changes: my daughter Nora was born and I accepted the role of Director for the UF Office of Sustainability. Having Nora made me even more dedicated to the goals we were working on at UF, and to finding, supporting, and building our local food system so I could provide healthy, fresh food for my family. What had started as a chapter of a national group, quickly morphed into co-founding a non-profit – Forage – with one of my best friends, Melissa DeSa in 2012. We continued the work we had done with Slow Food Gainesville, offering workshops and events that connect people with local farms and local food, but we expanded our efforts to do more.
But there was more work to be done and we quickly realized we needed to create change on a larger scale. We began to focus on advocating for business, policy, and institutional changes that would support the health and growth of our local food system and protecting the foundation of our food system – seeds. Eventually we teamed up with a sister non-profit, Blue Oven Kitchens, that was also doing advocacy work as well as incubating food-based start-up businesses. Over time, I realized that we could be stronger, more resource efficient, and more fiscally sound if we combined forces, and in 2017, I led the effort to merge these two organizations, and became President of the Board for the new entity – Working Food.
Working Food now works from seed-to-plate to cultivate and sustain a resilient local food community through collaboration, economic opportunity, education, and seed stewardship. We partner with the City, the County, Cultural Arts Coalition, Grow Hub, Greater Duval Neighborhood Association, Farm to School, Grow Gainesville, and so many more to build a healthy local food system accessible to all! We currently incubate over 20 start-up food businesses and food trucks, offer weekly after school gardens programs for underserved youth, run our seed-saving operation and our culinary program as a life skills and job skills training program for special needs adults, and continue to host events, workshops, and tastings to connect our community with local food.
While following my passion for food in community service with Working Food, I also decided to follow it professionally, and took a position with the UF/IFAS Farm to School Program in 2015. This two year contract with the Department of Agriculture, allowed me to help get more fresh, healthy, local food into the school lunch program and to expand school gardens statewide. During this time, I wrote the grant that got the Farm to School Program in Alachua County started and led the effort to write a statewide guide for school gardens that has won national awards. When this contract ended, I took another position with UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, working to develop the Field and Fork Program.
This was a dream come true. I got to develop an experiential learning program for students at UF to literally get their hands dirty learning about sustainable agriculture and food systems, while also growing food for those in need for the Alan and Cathy Hitchcock Field and Fork Food Pantry that we opened in collaboration with Student Affairs. Last year, Field and Fork reached over 3000 students, offered camps and tours to over 50 school and community groups, and grew nearly 5,000lbs of food for the campus and community food pantries. In addition, my role with Field and Fork allows me to support our local government partners in their efforts around local food. I have worked on several efforts, including the development of an Urban Agriculture Ordinance for Gainesville, in collaboration with the Environmental Law Clinic at UF, that is currently in review, assistance with the Alachua County Comprehensive Plan update for several elements related to local food and agriculture, and collaboration to develop a Food Systems Coalition for our community.
For the last 4 years this has been my passion and purpose and I am proud to continue on this path. My experience in program development and administration has given me the skills of managing budgets, handling human resources, facilitating collaborations and conflict resolution, and learning how to be an effective changemaker in large institutional bureaucracy. These talents, combined with my passion and dedication to this community have made me an accomplished member of the Alachua County Commission and I am excited about the continued opportunity to serve my community.
- Developed Plan for Agricultural Easements Program to protect rural agricultural land in our county, and added agricultural lands to priority list for conservation.
- Fresh Food Pathways Project - appropriated $920,000 for food security and local food access project that will work with local farmers and food security/ food justice organizations to increase healthy emergency food assistance and food access.
- Adopted Good Food Purchasing Program for County food procurement, including new Jail Food Contract. This is a third party certification for food procurement that looks at nutrition, local food, sustainability, humane animal treatment, and human rights.
- Small farm grants - appropriated $200,000 for grants to small farmers to increase local food markets.
- Agritourism Conference - hosted the first Alachua County Agritourism conference in 2022 and the Florida Agritourism Association Conference in 2023.
- Appropriation of 30% of ½ cent infrastructure surtax for affordable housing. - Appropriation of 2 Million into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
- Revising Affordable Housing Advisory Committee for citizen oversight of all affordable housing projects.
- Inclusionary zoning study and policy changes for more diverse housing optons across the county.
- Implemented a pilot grant program to invest in Energy Efficiency upgrades for affordable housing rental units.
Land Use and Development and Roads
- Protected the Gateway to the historic town of Micanopy and important Native American heritage sites from commercial development.
- Protected West End Golf Course from re-zoning and intensive residential and commercial development, and developed new code to ensure property owners manage their landscapes.
- Developed updates to community outreach requirements in our comp plan and building codes to increase transparency and community input to development.
- Strengthened tree protections and buffer requirements for several developments - Parks Master Plan allocation of 20% WSPP ½ cent sales tax to fund new park facilities and sites.
- Developed and Implemented more robust protections for environmental justice in our Comprehensive Plan
Public Safety and County Operations
- Major refocus and commitment to road repair and repaving - Doubled the appropriation of General tax funds to roads, and dedicated 70% of 1/2 cent infrastructure. Estimated total investment starting 2023 - 2032 is $241.9 Million dollars, including roadway repair and repaving, new/updated signals, pedestrian crosswalks and facilities, and major bridge maintenance.
- Prioritized new signaled crosswalks at schools and at midblock crossings for improved pedestrian safety.
- Construction of New Fire Stations and investment in new fire rescue equipment and vehicles.
- Expanded Fire Rescue Services to Micanopy.
- Implemented raises and Kelly Day for Fire Rescue Employees.
- Implemented raises for all county staff and increased minimum wage to $17/hour. - Implemented paid parental leave for County Staff.
- Developed County Facilities Master Plan that will optimize efficiency in building use and allow for creative redevelopment of county-owned land downtown for community use. - New Civil Courthouse Complex under construction.
- New Animal Resources Building in planning stages.
- Implemented free phone calls at the Alachua County Jail.
- Eliminated all County-initiated jail fees.
- Developed support for Heirs Property issues, Probate issues, and Estate Planning with a new full time staff person at self help center.
- Wrote the Alachua County Heirs’ Property and Estate Planning Overview in collaboration with UF Law School as a resource for our community.
- Collaborated with the Property Appraiser to develop and offer Probate and Estate Planning Summits across the county (have held 4 thus far in Gainesville, Hawthorne and Alachua).
- Appropriated $500,000 for a new Re-entry Program for those being released from jail/prison to decrease recidivism and provide employment, housing, and mental health support.
- Appropriated funding for a collaboration with Meridian to create a mental health receiving facility that will reduce arrests and increase access to care and support.
- Appropriated $1 Million for a collaboration with UF Health and the City of Gainesville to build an Eastside Urgent Care Center to increase access to healthcare in East Gainesville.
- Developed and appropriated $500,000 for a Community Health Worker Program that provides employment opportunities and increases access and support for health services across the county.
- Implemented aproximatley $18 Million in federal funding for Emergency Rental Assistance Program for relief to families for Covid-related challenges with rent and utilities.
- Appropriated and Implemented $1.8 Million in federal funding for Eviction Diversion support, including tennant education and legal support.
Environment and Conservation
- Ensured retention of 80% of the ½ penny WIld Spaces, Public Places sales tax for conservation lands. We now own over 30,000 acres of land, and approximately 30% of land in our county is protected, with a goal of 40% by 2040.
- Developed and implemented new irrigation codes to reduce water use on lawns and landscapes with board stakeholder input.
- Advocacy with the state for stricter regulations on permitting water use to protect rivers and springs.
- Built foundation for a Climate Action Plan for Alachua County. Focus on working with the community collaboratively to gather data, develop benchmarks, and build a Climate Action Plan. Thus far, we have finished Climate Vulnerability Analysis, Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Climate Action Planning Process.
- Empower community solar program.
- Began development of a Sustainable Procurement policy for the county. - Increased funding and staffing for our tree planting and tree protection programs.