Guest Column: Jack Payne

July 10, 2018

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

I was proud to see Lloyd Singleton receive the 2018 FNGLA volunteer of the year award. Any time FNGLA recognizes faculty from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, it validates our service to production agriculture in Florida.

You heard Lloyd’s story of volunteer service if you were at the annual convention in Bonita Springs in June. His paid job as UF/IFAS Lake County Extension director is also an example of remarkable devotion to the green industry.

It all started in his first month on the job eight years ago as an Extension horticulture agent in Sumter County. As so often happens, IFAS was in the right place at the right time to help respond to two big challenges: 

  1. A high recidivism rate among inmates at the federal correctional institution in Sumter County.
  2. The green industry’s need for trained, certified landscape and nursery professionals.

The UF/IFAS-FNGLA response: horticultural training for inmates. Lloyd and his team have been going behind the barbed-wire perimeter of the federal correctional facility for seven years teaching inmates how to care for turfgrass, palms, ornamental plants, fruit and vegetable crops, and more.

FNGLA, and specifically Merry Mott, have worked together with Lloyd to create and maintain a successful training program.

The strong partnership between UF/IFAS and FNGLA is possible because of a shared value. The people in both our organizations believe that people deserve a second chance, a shot at redemption, and that education and gainful employment are those second chances.

UF/IFAS Extension education and training specialist Susan League, who has done much of the teaching during that time, recalls being told when she started, “If you hear a loud bang, hit the ground, and stay on the ground.”

Putting pruning sheers into the hands of an inmate can also be a delicate task. And “students” can disappear at any moment because of a transfer, quarantine or lockdown.

Suffice it to say, it’s a different atmosphere than the UF campus.

Lloyd and Susan worked together to design a curriculum of rigorous, hands-on training that prepares inmates for a career on the outside. What we might call the final exam is the FNGLA professional certification test. To pass, a test taker needs to be able to identify more than 200 plants and answer questions about green industry best management practices.

Lloyd knows from his long experience in the private sector in the green industry before joining UF/IFAS that FNGLA members have been welcoming to job candidates who acknowledge past mistakes and are trying to atone for them.

The federal government tries to slow the revolving door of recidivism by offering employers a $2,400 tax credit for hiring one of the training program’s graduates. Recidivism is a bedeviling problem, but studies have shown that education of inmates reduces inmates’ probability of returning to prison.

As one program graduate put it, League’s classes “keeps my mind alive.”

FNGLA members can see this. Several of you come inside the barbed wire with Lloyd each year to do mock interviews. More than once, one of you has left a business card with an inmate and an invitation to call for a job when he gets out.

If we didn’t see the potential for transformation through education, we wouldn’t be a university. If we didn’t work so closely with stakeholders such as FNGLA, we wouldn’t be a land-grant university.

UF/IFAS and FNGLA both grow plants, an economy, and a way of life. When we work together on initiatives like Lloyd’s we aim to grow a little better world.

2018 Outstanding Volunteer Industry Award - Lloyd Singleton from FNGLA on Vimeo.

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