Newberry’s agricultural history started with watermelon. The new UF/IFAS and Alachua County Extension Office continues celebrating its agricultural heritage and fondness for summer fruit.

UF/IFAS cut the ribbon on the 22712 W. Newberry Road location Nov. 30. The office is a modern version of the old campus, said Joy Glanzer, who had previously served as a Newberry city commissioner in the planning zone.

The UF/IFAS Extension Office contains new additions such as a kitchen, laboratory and 300-seat auditorium, according to the Alachua County Facebook page.

The kitchen has already been used to host cooking classes, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said. Eventually, the updated auditorium will be used to host the two to three international conferences that IFAS typically holds each year.

The new office will also have an extension agent on site to answer farming or livestock questions, Marlowe said.

Originally a mining town, the city made its living off phosphate, Marlowe said. After World War I, Newberry could no longer sell the material. It had to find a new solution.

The city found its land was perfect for growing watermelon and tobacco.

“Newberry was struggling to find an industry and we found that in watermelon,” Marlowe said.

This love for watermelon has persisted. To this day, Newberry boasts the longest continually running watermelon festival in the United States, Marlowe said.

“When we say Newberry’s an ag town, it’s not just because we’ve done agriculture, it’s cause we’ve done it well,” Marlowe said.

From the conception to the ribbon cutting, the project took about two to three years.

Most of the planning occurred between Alachua County and UF/IFAS.

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“The city of Newberry was involved in things like utilities, wastewater, sewer, water, electricity, those kinds of things,” Marlowe said.

Marlowe says that Newberry contributed $1 million to the Alachua County Equestrian Center and $300,000 to purchase the land IFAS was on, making the city’s total financial contribution around $1.3 million.

“We think we’re right in the epicenter of an area that is primed for agricultural research,” Marlowe said.

There are three international airports located less than two hours away from Newberry. Next door to the extension office lies the Alachua County fairgrounds and Newberry’s plans for an agricultural technology research park.

It is still a few years before the proposed ag tech park next door can become a reality. However, Glanzer, 66, says that the park will generate attention for Newberry and introduce development agricultural companies to the area.

“It’s just a beautiful marriage [between the new office and the Agricultural Technology Research Park],” Glanzer said.

She said the extension office was needed because the old campus was so dilapidated. 

“They just needed to modernize their space and make it a viable place for people to come to learn, get educated and experience all things to deal with agriculture,” Glanzer said.

She hopes the new office will attract more agricultural professionals to the community.

“Anything that can count to a small community really helps to highlight who we are and what we do here,” Glanzer said.

Contact Allyssa Keller at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @allygatorkeller.

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