Jul 3, 2019
Gene McAvoy, Florida Extension specialist, retiring July 31

A long-time contributor to the Florida specialty crops industry, and supporter of national county Extension programs and issues, has announced his retirement.

Gene McAvoy is president-elect of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents, Hendry County Extension director and regional vegetable agent IV for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Gene McAvoy

McAvoy, who is based in Labelle, Florida, distributed the following letter July explaining his decision.

“Dear Friends,

It is with some sadness and trepidation that I announce my impending retirement effective July 31, 2019 after 22 years as the Hendry County Extension Director and Regional Vegetable Extension Agent for SW Florida. It has certainly been an honor and privilege to work with all the many fine hardworking growers and industry reps that and I hope that I have been able make a positive contribution during my tenure.

As some of you may know, I began my involvement with the vegetable industry over 50 years in New Jersey, when I began picking tomatoes on a local farm during summer break and after school to earn money for college. This began my lifelong love of agriculture and lead to a BS degree in Plant Science.  Upon leaving Rutgers, I joined Peace Corps in a desire to repay society for the generous financial assistance and scholarships that I received which allowed me to complete my studies.

I was posted to Niger West Africa where I worked with small vegetable farmers in one of the poorest countries on earth. My Peace Corps experience led to a 12 year involvement with various U.S .Agency for International Development projects working with small vegetable farmers in Niger, West Africa and Jamaica in the West Indies.  

In between Niger and Jamaica, I returned to Rutgers University where I joined the faculty and helped develop their new International Programs Office and I developed and instructed Vegetable Production and Marketing Short Course and a semester long academic class in Seed Multiplication while earning a MS in Horticulture from Rutgers University and starting a family.  

The Vegetable Production and Marketing Short Course was a six week long full day intensive program aimed at Extension professionals from around the globe.  During my involvement with this program we hosted individuals from dozens of developing nations ranging across Asia, Africa, South and Central America and the Caribbean.

These experiences in working with growers and professionals from a variety of cultures and languages certainly changed my life and provided me with a global perspective.  It also honed my ability to communicate and work with people from all walks of life and backgrounds and provided me an education which could not be obtained in any University and laid the foundation for my eventual involvement with the UF/IFAS Extension Service.  

In 1989, my family relocated from Jamaica to St. James City in Lee County.  During our time in Jamaica we learned about S Florida and decided to start a new life here.  Due to my lack of local experience, I encountered difficulty in finding work in agriculture and due to a necessity to feed my growing family I began a multiyear stint as an environment specialist with the Florida Department of Health (food safety and septic tank inspector among other things).  I like to think that this experience helped me to understand the food chain from beginning to end!

This was punctuated by an opportunity to return oversees to Swaziland, in South Africa for a two year stint working once again with small vegetable farmers and helping them with production and marketing efforts.   This was a historical moment as we witnessed the end of apartheid and it was here our youngest son was born.  

In 1997, I was hired by the University Florida IFAS as the vegetable/horticulture agent in Hendry County, where I had the privilege to work with the legendary Dallas Townsend, who was then the Hendry County Director and a man to whom I am forever indebted.  Dallas certainly provided me with the local knowledge and understanding of the issues and players that allowed me to be an effective extension agent.

The vegetable industry SW Florida was expanding at this time while at the same time was being impacted by NAFTA, new pests and diseases, and a plethora of regulatory issues.   The industry demands for Extension services in SW Florida led to my position being converted to a regional specialized agent position.   When Dallas retired in 2004, I became the Hendry County Extension Director and Regional Vegetable Extension Agent for SW Florida and beyond.   

This has been the best job in the world and an experience I would not trade for any other.  Hendry County has become my home and when I look back over the years it would have been inconceivable  to imagine that city boy from Newark NJ would have ended up leading one of the finest Ag extension offices in the state and country and that the journey from NJ to LaBelle would have led half way around the world and exposed us to things that most people only get to see on TV.

I have had a wonderful career and am extremely fortunate and most grateful that I and my family have been adopted by the good people of LaBelle, Hendry County and SW Florida and to have become part of this amazing community of agriculturists.  We are just so blessed and honored to have had the opportunity to work with all of you all.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the loving support of my wife Donna and my three sons Chris, Teddy and Andy in supporting me on this journey and embracing the Extension life style.

While I must retire due to the rules imposed by the Florida Retirement System and DROP, I hope to remain engaged and continue to serve the industry that I know and love.  

Although I am not big on fanfare, my staff has graciously organized an event to mark my retirement (see attached) – so if you are around LaBelle on July 30, please feel free to stop by and reminisce.

My wife and I plan to remain on our small ranch in LaBelle.  So if i can ever be of assistance, please feel free to give me a shout.  As they said in the old Westerns -“have gun, will travel.”

Thanks and all the best.


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