Growing up in Rhode Island, it almost seemed like Ralph Mitchell was destined to pursue extension as a career.
“Well, my father was an extension agent,” Mitchell said. “I loved to come to his office and pick up the latest Extension publication — my favorite was the embryology unit. I also liked to help him at the fairs, both county and state, and make site visits with him to 4-H youth, raising pheasants as a project. I was in 4-H as a youth as well. This all inspired my mission for helping and educating people about subject matter that I enjoy.”
Flash forward about 40 years. As the horticulture agent and extension director for University of Florida/IFAS Extension Charlotte County for 20 years, Mitchell will spread his knowledge and management skills as interim director of UF/IFAS Extension Desoto County.
The temporary DeSoto County assignment is nothing new for Mitchell. He served as interim director of UF/IFAS Extension Lee County for nine months in 2018-2019, and he sees that prior position as helpful to his current one.
“As a former district extension director once told me, ‘Ralph, it’s all about relationships,’” Mitchell said. “In addition to the information we provide, it is the relationships we make with our customers and county partners that are part of the educational equation. It is also about service with extension: We have a heart for, and specialize in, service.”
Mitchell knows Desoto County well. He’s visited the extension office and participated in several youth agricultural events at the Turner Agri-Civic Center in Arcadia. Mitchell also has attended several Florida Farm Bureau annual meetings in the county.
For now, the assignment is virtual, just like work for most faculty and staff at UF/IFAS. But when he returns to the office, Mitchell will take a bucolic, 45-minute drive to Arcadia.
Like most UF/IFAS Extension county programs, information offered by faculty and staff in DeSoto County relates to agriculture, 4-H Youth Development and the UF/IFAS Family Nutrition Program.
Ask him about his faculty and staff in DeSoto, and Michell will sound like an arena announcer introducing a sport’s team’s starting lineups.
Mitchell’s specialty is horticulture, so he handles those questions. His team includes Ajia Paolillo, who covers citrus as multi-county citrus agent, and Sarah Bostick, the interim agricultural agent, covers crops and livestock.
4-H is in good shape with agent Katelyn Mulinex and program Assistant Jodi Schaefer, “successfully leading our youth in citizenship, leadership, workforce preparation, subject matter experiential events,” he said.
Mitchell earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture resource technology and a master’s in education — both from the University of Rhode Island. Before he came to UF/IFAS in 2000, Mitchell worked for Extension at Cornell University for 10 years.
“I appreciate and support agriculture in DeSoto County as an important and crucial industry, especially at this time in transition,” Mitchell said. “During this time, we can address the process of reopening for in-person services, post-COVID 19, and eventually welcome a new DeSoto County Extension director.”