The Escambia County 4-H organization is no stranger to big decisions. A monster was wrestled last year, and another now looms in the heat of summer.
In 2012, local 4-H youth voted to sell the organization’s 240-acre Langley Bell property to the neighboring Navy Federal Credit Union. It was a big decision with plenty of community involvement. The sale allows Navy Federal to follow through on expansion plans and facilitates the resulting job boon.
Escambia’s 4-H was paid $3.6 million for the property. Two million dollars was placed in an endowment, while $1.6 million is reserved for the possible purchase of another piece of property.
How to best use the $1.6 million will be determined by Dr. Nick Place, dean of the University of Florida/IFAS Extension, which oversees 4-H statewide. In order to aid in that determination, the dean assembled a local task force in November 2012.
The task force, made up of members with ties to the 4-H community, recently sent its findings to Gainesville, Fla. The options now before the dean—both land and non-land varieties—represent differing philosophies, and differing versions of 4-H’s future in Escambia.
“What is 4-H,” Dean Place explained, “and what kind of programs are they going to be doing up there.”
Some in the 4-H community view the organization through a more traditional, agriculture-and-livestock lens. This camp would prefer to purchase property comparable to Langley Bell. Others place less emphasis on property, and contend that 4-H has evolved and expanded its focus beyond its traditional roots.
The views more pertinent belong to Place. He plans to make his decision later this month. The dean has been getting plenty of input.
“Yeah, there’s been a fair amount of that—people that want to share their ideas, suggestions and things like that,” Place said. “They’re all over the place, from some well-thought out, professional input, to some things on the other side of the pendulum, I’ll say.”
The 4-H task force began meeting late last year, and wrapped up its work in June. The group was charged with identifying options to meet the organization’s animal science and outdoor education needs.
The final report details various options, ranging from purchasing land to using existing properties and facilities. There are nine proposals outlined. Place made a handful of trips to Escambia to get a handle on the options.
“Which was really good,” the dean said, “because that gave me a firsthand look.”
The task force’s work was meant to be objective, rather than subjective.
“It was a fact-finding committee only,” said Pam Allen, director at the Escambia Extension Office. “They were not to rank order, they were not to give opinions.”
Allen did say the task force members—like the wider 4-H community—had struggled with the central divide concerning land and the function of 4-H.
“I guess that’s been a topic of spirited debate over the last couple of months,” the director said.
But Allen said that the local 4-H no longer facilitates the raising of livestock off-site, thus the need for land may not be what it once was. She stressed that the organization now serves a more varied audience and that its mission has changed.
“That has evolved over the years,” Allen said. “We’re rural, we’re urban, we’re city, you know, it’s far reaching. You know, 4-H has changed.”
This varied audience of rural and urban is what Dean Place will be taking into consideration when making his decision.
“We need to make sure the program we have is reflective of both of these audiences,” Place said.
The Barn Summit
Back in April, Florida Sen. Greg Evers made a trip out to the livestock show at the Langley Bell 4-H Center. He corralled a group of kids into the barn for a chat. The senator wanted to know how the kids felt about the issues surrounding the sale of Langley Bell. He wanted to know how they felt about the future of 4-H in Escambia County.
“I went out there and I spoke with these kids,” Evers said. “I spoke to each kid to find out what their interest was, what they were doing in 4-H. Just to get a feel of what everybody was doing.”
The senator wanted to hear about the 4-H kids’ decision to sale the Langley Bell property. He wanted to know what they felt they’d be getting in return.
Escambia County Commissioner Steven Barry was in the barn, too. He explained how the kids—voting members of the 4-H Council—pointed outside the barn and told the senator they expected to be purchasing a piece of property that would afford them the same opportunities as Langley Bell.
“The takeaway?” Barry said. “They kept motioning, ‘Something like what we have here.’”
Senator Evers would like to see the local Escambia 4-H youth have more of a say in this issue.
“I’m for the kids, whatever the kids want to do,” the senator said, “what they think is best for 4-H and the direction of 4-H.”
Evers, as well as Escambia County Commissioner Wilson Robertson, who also sits on the 4-H Foundation, the organization’s financial arm, feels that the youth that voted to sell the Langley Bell property should be allowed to vote on how best to use the resulting funds.
“I want these kids to have the ability to help make a decision in lieu of adults making that determination of what the kids need,” Evers said. “I think that when the kids make a decision, of what they want to do, it should weigh heavy in Gainesville.”
Commissioner Barry said he’s looking for the 4-H youth to receive something “fair and equitable.” He’s not “married to the Bayer property”—a proposal championed by some in the 4-H community—but does expect the organization to purchase property with the proceeds from the Navy Fed deal.
“I will be disappointed if there’s not acquisition of property somewhere,” Barry said. “I will be surprised and disappointed.”
Escambia County 4-H Task Force Proposals
Bayer Crop Science Facility
This 250-acre site runs between $1.3 and $1.5 million. The property has three main buildings, three storage barns, three irrigation ponds, greenhouses and a weather station.
Cottage Hill State Forest
With a total of 31.25 acres, this property could be deeded to the county by the state.
Escambia County Equestrian Center
The 151-acre, county-owned site is currently used for horse shows, dog shows and 5k runs. With the exception of horses, the facility cannot currently accommodate livestock. Use of the site would require a use agreement with the county.
Pensacola Interstate Fairgrounds
The owner of the fairgrounds is “willing to allow 4-H to raise hogs.” The site features less than an acre available for development. After the cost of building structures, the only cost would be that of manure disposal.
Highway 196 Unimproved Raw Land
Spanning four separate parcels, this option provides for a total of 235.76 acres. The land would require extensive clearing and cost $2,800 per acre.
Spring Lake/Beck’s Lake
This property, owned by International Paper and Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, is of unknown acreage and cost. It offers flat building sites.
Non-Land Option — Animal Raising
The task force found there is potential to lease property to address the needs associated with raising animals.
Non-Land Option — National, State and Local Park Systems
There are opportunities to use publicly-owned land to satisfy various 4-H needs.
Roy Hyatt Environmental Center
Owned by the Escambia County School District, this 20-acre site could possibly meet 4-H’s animal and agricultural science needs.