UF Interim Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources Rob Gilbert, Ph.D., at left, and FNGLA Past President Ed Bravo, at right, rest on a bench dedicated to Bravo's father, Carlos Bravo, on the UF campus. PHOTO COURTESY UF/IFAS

Rob Gilbert: A Long Connection Between UF/IFAS and FNGLA | Guest Column

April 2, 2024

A recent walk through a garden helped me appreciate more profoundly the long connection between UF/IFAS and FNGLA.

It was, of course, the Ben & Renee Bolusky Garden here on campus. And while Ben wasn’t there that day, I had FNGLA with me every step of the way. FNGLA legend Ed Bravo, on almost no notice, agreed to meet me there.

I knew the walk would be a bit of a tribute to Ben. Ed and I reminisced about what a great leader and great person Ben is.

What I hadn’t known was how deeply connected Ed is to this patch of land. Ed told me about how as a boy, before the lot was beautified, he ran along its ditches and banks as he killed time while his dad took classes and worked on agriculture projects on property near Wilmot Gardens (which includes the Bolusky Garden) and his mother worked at nearby Shands Hospital.

Then he showed me his dad’s name, Carlos J. Bravo, UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences class of 1972. When Ed lost his father three years ago, he honored him by putting his name on a bench in the garden.

I got to hear about how Carlos had fled the Cuban Revolution, about the family’s home and land in Santiago being expropriated. I had come to the garden in part to get my photo taken with bromeliads, Madagascar palms and Pink Panthers. I left with a much more meaningful image—of me sharing the Carlos J. Bravo bench with Ed.

FNGLA has already given me a number of special moments. For example, when I entered University Auditorium in the procession preceding the inauguration of our UF president in November, I stepped onto a stage spectacularly decorated with plants donated by Jim Fleming of Tropic Traditions and delivered by Ed.

My job moving forward is to do all I can to support the scientists who provide the innovation and know-how needed for the long-term sustainability of Florida’s green industry. My team and I can do that best when we know the real people behind that industry.

That’s why when I appointed Wagner Vendrame as interim chair of the Department of Environmental Horticulture, I immediately urged him to attend Tropical Plant International Expo. I nominated a faculty member for FNGLA's Outstanding Educator Industry Award. I met with FNGLA Chief Executive Officer Tal Coley in person in Gainesville, on Zoom, and by phone. And I asked FNGLA Chief Operating Officer Linda Adams for the honor of visiting with her to record an episode of FNGLA's Plant People Podcast .

I don’t need FNGLA to tell me how important plants are. I am married to a Master Gardener. Our yard blooms with roses, camellias and azaleas. We pick persimmons and grapefruit off our trees.

But the walk in the garden reminded me how important the people behind the plants are. It also drove home what a great responsibility – and privilege – it is to become the incumbent chief steward of a UF/IFAS-FNGLA relationship that goes back decades. I’m looking forward to building on that relationship and forming new ones with individual FNGLA members in Naples at FNGLA Annual Convention June.

Rob Gilbert is the University of Florida’s interim senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

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