Extension service has two new horticulture program assistants

Hunter Sills

OKEECHOBEE – The Okeechobee County University of Florida IFAS Extension Service is excited to announce the recent hire of two new horticulture program assistants, Ben Kafka and Hunter Sills.

Mr. Kafka is a retired software developer with a passion for vegetable and butterfly gardens. When asked how he got interested in horticulture, Mr. Kafka referenced his many years spent as a hobby gardener.

“I’ve been a longtime vegetable gardener and have had gardens most of my life. Since moving to Florida from Utah, I’ve had to learn how to grow plants in our humid climate and, in particular, adjust to the challenges of having more abundant insects,” Mr. Kafka said.

“Studying caterpillars piqued my interest in moths, butterflies and pollinators in general. I enjoy problem-solving, and there are always plenty of them to solve in gardening.”

Mr. Kafka’s primary interest is in organic vegetable gardening, and within this position, Ben hopes to help members of the community grow gardens to supplement their food budget. Through this initiative, Mr. Kafka will teach others how to provide their own fresh produce utilizing Florida-Friendly Landscaping Principles to guide them.

Ben Kafka

Mr. Kafka finds the ability to grow tropical plants in Florida’s sandy soil and the microclimates a unique aspect of horticulture in the area of Okeechobee.

Our other new horticulture program assistant is Hunter Sills. Mr. Sills will be with us only for a short while, as he has been accepted to the University of Florida in the fall.

Mr. Sills’ interest in horticulture began at a young age when he observed his dad working as a citrus grove manager at Williamson Cattle and Citrus. Mr. Sills was very active in 4-H and FFA, where he was a member of the citrus and vegetable judging teams. He hopes to be able honor the Extension Service mission to improve the quality of life by helping identify and problem-solve plant and insect issues for homeowners and producers.

Mr. Sills likes the fact that the Okeechobee environment allows a variety of plants to be grown year-round.

The mission of these individuals is to help the citizens of Okeechobee County with homeowner and commercial horticultural endeavors utilizing the nine Florida-Friendly Landscaping Principles. They will develop and provide research-based recommendations from the University of Florida through electronic resources, interactive workshops and collaboration with community organizations and businesses.

If the horticulture program assistants can be of any help, please do not hesitate to call our office at 863-763-6469 or come by at 458 U.S. 98 N. We would love to see you!

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