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FWA Partners with National Association of County Agricultural Agents at National Conference in West

Prepared by: Bob Hochmuth, Mark Warren, Matt Smith, Ed Jennings, Ron Rice, Prissy Fletcher, and Matt VanWeelden (UF/IFAS, Florida County Extension Agents)

County Agricultural Extension Agents from across the country gather yearly for their annual professional improvement conference. The location rotates around the country and in 2022 the Florida Agents had the honor of hosting 1,100 attendees in West Palm Beach July 17-22. The week-long conference is packed with activities focused on professional improvement, educational tours, awards and recognition, and plenty of social time as well. The Florida agents wanted attendees to have the opportunity to have one fun evening at the beach.

Florida Watermelon Queen, Amber Boykin with UF/IFAS Extension Agents, Bob Hochmuth (left) and Mark Warren (right).

So, “The Beach Party” sponsored by Microsoft, was planned and held at Carlin Park near Jupiter, FL. All attendees were bussed to the location and could access the beach and swim, enjoy a variety of foods from several food trucks throughout the area, play several games, and of course, enjoy fresh watermelon all night long. Bob Hochmuth, UF/IFAS Regional Extension Agent serving the Suwannee Valley, said “as plans for the event began, we knew watermelons, FWA, and Queen Amber all needed to be featured”. Boy was cold watermelon “featured” on what was a typical hot night in south Florida. The FWA booth was the hub of all activity at the event, with cold sliced watermelon, chips, and watermelon salsa, the opportunity to meet and have a photo opportunity with Florida Watermelon Queen Amber Boykin, and even try their skill at watermelon seed spitting.

UF/IFAS Watermelon Team members Matt Van Weelden (overall event Co-chair), Mark Warren, and Matt Smith (left to right)

The Florida Watermelon Association was already one of many ag industry groups co-sponsoring the conference, but in addition, FWA set up a great watermelon-featured exhibit and booth hosted by Queen Amber Boykin, Debra Harrison, and Amber’s mom, Jennifer Boykin. The ‘Cracker Jack’ watermelons were supplied by Mark Bryan, Super Sweet Farms, and delivered by Bob Hochmuth to a portable cooler/trailer provided to FWA by the County Extension Director Ron Rice, Palm each County Extension office. When the night was over the team had served 50-55 large watermelons (36-count) to hundreds of happy attendees. Hochmuth said, “every watermelon cut was identical to the others, incredibly sweet (certainly 13-14% Brix), crisp, and absolutely perfect”. Hochmuth would joke with attendees saying, “take a bite and I guarantee you will say,…. that it is the best watermelon I ever tasted”. The tasters agreed every time, all night long. Mark Warren and Ed Jennings, Levy County Extension agents eventually set up a slice and serve location on the beach slicing up watermelon for those staying close to the ocean and beach. Everywhere you went, you found watermelon!

The final fun and very popular activity at the FWA booth was a watermelon “Seed-Spitting Contest” which was run by Matt Smith, Multi-County Extension Agent, Sumter County, and Bob Hochmuth. Hundreds of participants gave it a try and literally had a blast spitting seed down the FWA contest mat. The adult winner was Tim Christensen from Iowa at 36 feet, and the youth category winner was 12-year-old George Hieneman, from Kentucky at 22 feet. However, in a demonstration/teaching spit to agents from North Carolina, Hochmuth spits a seed 40 feet. Of course, the referee can’t win the contest, but the story is true and topped off the perfect night for FWA and the collaborating Florida Extension Agents.

The special relationship between FWA and UF/IFAS Extension Agents was on full display that night and the Agents want to be sure all FWA members know how much FWA is appreciated. Thanks, FWA!

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