Feb. 20, 2015: Afternoon News In 90

By on February 20th, 2015 | Last updated: February 26, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Andrew Briz produced this update. 

News in 90 | Leave a comment

HOPE Comes On Four Legs For Veterans

By on February 20th, 2015 | Last updated: February 20, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Veteran Michael Morgan, 53, grooms his chosen horse, Lila, during his first session at HOPE. Dahlia Gabour /WUFT News

Travis Harvey leaned his elbows on the wooden fence and let out a shrill whistle. In the back of the pasture, three horses turned their heads, but only one came trotting to greet him — Starlight, a 19-year-old Appaloosa.

“This is our lover right here,” Harvey said. “She’s one of my favorites.”

Starlight is one of nine horses that work at the nonprofit HOrses Helping PEople, or HOPE. The horses act as therapy animals for people with disabilities, special needs children and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

HOPE, founded in 2000, debuted a program on February 9 to complement its existing Wednesday sessions. As always, its gates are open to anyone who needs help.

“Horses are kind of empathetic,” Harvey said. “Here, you’re talking about unconditional love. It’s giving people the opportunity to work out their patience issues. They don’t have to worry about a horse betraying them like people do.”

Harvey, 39, has personally benefited from Horses Helping Heroes, a program catered to veterans’ needs. He was wounded in Iraq in 2003 after a mortar landed 15 feet away from him, blowing shrapnel into both of his legs and his left arm. He spent a year and a half recovering in a military hospital.

After recovery, he spent 10 years shuffling from job to job. It was difficult for Harvey to balance work with appointments at the Department of Veterans Affairs and therapy. He started his sessions at HOPE last May and stayed on as a volunteer coordinator.

By late November, Harvey learned so much and grew so attached to the horses that he stayed on as HOPE’s executive director. His responsibilities range from administrative work that keeps the organization running to leading veterans classes.

“They’ve got a saying with horses: ‘it happens when it happens,’” Harvey said. “If you’re trying to teach a horse to do a trick, it’ll happen when it happens, and you can’t force them or get angry with them. It’s the same with veterans.”

He said being a veteran makes it easier for him to connect with others and help them through their own healing processes. Some come from the HONOR center, which provides services for homeless veterans. Others like Harvey come from The Mission Continues, a program that empowers veterans struggling with reintegration into society.

Veterans are paired with a horse of their choice for the duration of their free 10-week program. They learn how to groom, lead and eventually ride their horses through obstacles and around paddocks.

Most of the horses were donated after retirement. There is no application process for the veterans, but the number of horses dictates how many can participate.

Every horse is different. They range from fuzzy, brown-and-white miniatures like Rocky to huge Clydesdale look-alikes such as Belle, a retired police horse. Every veteran is different too.

“To be honest, for the last nine years, I did everything possible to forget I was ever in the military,” said Glenn Rodriguez, who served in Iraq from 2002 to 2005. “This program has gotten me more in touch with the positive attributes that I got from the military and taught me to be proud of myself again.”

When Rodriguez returned from his service, the 32-year-old suffered from depression and PTSD. He said it has taken him 10 years of recovery to decide he would like to go back to school and become a therapist. He volunteers at HOPE every chance he gets.


HOPE’s executive director Travis Harvey leads Saber, a 12-year-old Appaloosa, around a paddock. The Iraq war vet says being a veteran helps him connect to the people he works with. Dahlia Gabour /WUFT NEWS

“There’s a feeling that is pretty indescribable about riding a horse when you are in sync with it,” he said. “The communication, the energy. It’s very much serenity.”

Harvey and the rest of the HOPE team are working to expand the veterans program.

Dr. Anthony Mancuso, who in 2004 donated the 40 acres of land HOPE uses, also donated $10,000 in December so HOPE could set up an employment plan for those who complete their therapy.

“Once they come out of their shell and feel comfortable, then the next thing they want in their reintegration is a paycheck,” said Mancuso, a radiologist at UF Health.

Mancuso said the goal is to get the continuum funded then try to implement an employment model.

“It’s a different war,” he said.

Mancuso said horses have a unique sensitivity that lets them understand when a person is not fully physically or mentally capable.

“Somehow they can sense people who need to be part of the herd,” he said.

It takes some veterans longer than others to get used to working with 1,500-pound animals. HOPE, Harvey said, allows veterans to heal at their own pace by working together with horses on establishing trust, communication, patience and understanding.

Michael Morgan, a 53-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, said he grew up on a farm with horses. At one point, he was sleeping in Tent City — an area in Gainesville that once housed many of the city’s homeless people — without a tarp to cover him.

He credits the VA with helping him get back on his feet. He now has his own apartment and just started his first session at HOPE, Morgan said.

“I get to spend time with animals I haven’t spent time with in years,” Morgan said, stroking the broad, brown neck of an Appaloosa named Lila.

“It feels like home,” he said softly. “It feels like home.”

Local | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

NCAA Released Infractions Report On Florida Football Program

By and on February 20th, 2015 | Last updated: February 20, 2015 at 2:43 pm

The NCAA released a report Friday concerning an infraction investigation of the University of Florida’s former wide receivers coach Joker Phillips.

On Jan. 23, 2014, Phillips met with a prospective student-athlete at his high school, which violates NCAA bylaws that prevent interaction before July 1, after the prospect’s junior year.

UF began investigating in June, and after two years on the coaching staff, Phillips resigned June 11 at the request of the university.

UF will not receive any penalties because of steps the institution took once the claim was brought to its attention, according to the NCAA report .

 “That is why we took quick and decisive action after we learned of a recruiting contact rule violation involving one of our assistant football coaches in January 2014,” UF Athletic Association Athletics Director Jeremy Foley wrote in a statement.

Phillips had a contact who connected him with prospective students and who also contacted Phillips the day he talked to the student.

No further penalties are warranted against Phillips, who is now the wide receivers coach for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, according to the report.

 The 12-page document said the meetings between the student-athlete and Phillips gave Florida a recruiting advantage.

“We stopped recruiting the involved student-athlete, we removed the assistant coach from all recruiting activities, and later secured his resignation,” Foley wrote.

Sports | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the News: Disney Ticket Prices, Construction Worker Demand, Florida Health Care, Water Policy Revamp

By on February 20th, 2015 | Last updated: February 20, 2015 at 11:30 am
In the News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hydroponic Farm Finds A Cleaner, More Natural Way To Grow Crops

By on February 19th, 2015 | Last updated: February 21, 2015 at 9:22 am


Dave Myler, owner of Blue Grotto, carefully grooms the lettuce for harvest this week. The hydroponic farm currently uses about 5,000 to 8,000 gallons of spring water each day, pumped from the cave at Blue Grotto Spring.  Blue Grotto Farm harvests about 3,000 heads of lettuce each week.

Dave Myler, owner of Blue Grotto, carefully grooms the lettuce for harvest this week. The hydroponic farm currently uses about 5,000 to 8,000 gallons of spring water each day, pumped from the cave at Blue Grotto Spring. Blue Grotto Farm harvests about 3,000 heads of lettuce each week. Rachael Holt / WUFT News

A freeze warning is in effect throughout North Central Florida this week and is expected to last through Friday night. Blue Grotto Farm is planning to protect its crops with water from its on-site spring.

Blue Grotto Spring has been operating as a dive resort in Williston for about 50 years. The spring’s clear water and steady 72-degree temperature allows the farm to produce year-round, said owner Dave Myler.

Myler bought the property as an investment in August 2013 and established a hydroponic farm: a method of growing plants without soil.

Instead, the farm’s crops thrive in volcanic rock that has been heated and expanded like popcorn, known as perlite, that acts as an alternative to soil.

The farm uses water pumped from an underwater cave in Blue Grotto Spring. The water is assessed by a computer, enhanced with nutrients and sent through a system of tubes to efficiently spray the plants.

After a period of experimentation and some setbacks, Blue Grotto Farm sold its first large harvest of lettuce last week to a wholesaler.

The farm covers more than half an acre and has about 23,000 plants, Myler said. Of the 18,000 heads of lettuce, about 3,000 will be harvested each week. Tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs are also growing rapidly.

Myler said he will expand his hydroponic operation by one acre and will be adding space for free-range chickens, beehives and berries.

By this fall, the expansion will be well underway and Blue Grotto Farm will offer a prepaid produce plan to customers who will receive fresh produce from the farm each week for 20 weeks.

To ensure the plants survive the cold weather, several different methods are used.

The lettuce is sprayed with water and protected by a layer of ice. The ice keeps the lettuce at 32 degrees even when outside temperatures and wind may be significantly lower.

About 1,000 tomato plants grow in tarp-covered tunnels, which trap some heat. The seedlings and herbs in the greenhouse are safe and sound under bright, warm lights. The lights are kept on 24/7 regardless of weather.

Marvin Botts, Blue Grotto’s hydroponics manager, said the first step when faced with a dangerous frost is filling the pots with spring water. He even pours water on the ground to create a warm mist that heats the air in the tomato tunnels.

Botts created a geothermal heat exchange unit to also aid in heating. He said the device acts like a car radiator. Spring water is poured into coils, and a fan blows the warm air rising from the coils into the tomato tunnels. When the temperature drops to 20 degrees or below with wind chill, a propane heater is used as a last resort.

Botts said the hydroponics operation, combined with spring water, produces healthy plants without interference from pests and with little waste.

Myler and Botts hope to fully automate the watering system and create a way to reclaim the water to eliminate waste entirely.

Botts said he avoids synthetic nutrients, but the nutrients added to the water are inorganic, like phosphorous and nitrogen. He hopes to design a system to process organic matter — like cow manure — on the farm to make the produce completely organic.

“It’s not organic in the strictest sense, but it is natural in the strictest sense,” Botts said.

Ben Collingsworth, the farm’s hydroponics technician, said it takes about 12 days for a seed to become a plant. After three weeks in the greenhouse, lettuce is transplanted to hydroponic towers. After another six weeks, the lettuce is ready to be harvested.

Most of what Myler has learned about hydroponic farming he has learned on the job. He started the farm early last year but had to completely restart the project in October after insects, fungus and poor planting conditions ruined the crops.

Collingsworth was there through it all. He said the process was intimidating, but he was optimistic for the future.

Now, he said, “Things are looking up.”

Environment | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Police And Community Plant Garden For GRACE Marketplace Residents

By on February 19th, 2015 | Last updated: February 19, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Gainesville police were hard at work Wednesday planting a garden for the people living at GRACE Marketplace. Different organizations in the community donated materials to start and maintain the garden, which will provide food and activities for the homeless residents.

Video | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sleep Not A Priority For Students, Study Finds

By on February 19th, 2015 | Last updated: February 19, 2015 at 5:00 pm

A study done by the National Sleep Foundation found that sleep is a low priority for college students. The organization recommends people between the ages of 18 to 25 get about nine hours of sleep.

Health and Science, Video | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Feb. 19, 2015: Afternoon News In 90

By on February 19th, 2015 | Last updated: February 19, 2015 at 5:03 pm

News in 90 | Leave a comment

Florida Hangs On Against Vanderbilt To Earn Much Needed Win

By on February 19th, 2015 | Last updated: February 19, 2015 at 3:44 pm

In a close game Wednesday night, Feb. 18, the Florida Gators were able to squeak by the Vanderbilt Commodores 50-47 at home.

Down by one point with 2.7 seconds remaining in regulation, Florida’s Kasey Hill (0) dished an assist to freshman Devin Robinson (3) for the go-ahead dunk, putting the Gators up 48-47. Florida secured the victory by forcing a Vanderbilt turnover on the ensuing possession, after which the Commodores fouled Florida’s Chris Chiozza (11), sending him to the free throw line where he made both shots.

The Gators are now 6-7 in conference play, and 13-13 overall. This season, the team has lost 6 games by 2 or less points.

Sports | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scott’s Education Budget Raises Concerns Over For-Profit Charter Schools

By on February 19th, 2015 | Last updated: February 19, 2015 at 3:33 pm

After Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his 2015-2016 “Keep Florida Working” budget, Alachua County public school educators voiced concerns over the distribution of funds allotted to for-profit charter schools.

By definition, a charter school is a public school of choice that receives self-governing freedom and flexibility from both state and local regulations in exchange for greater accountability to raise student achievement. The key characteristic is the combination of public funding with private management.

For the maintenance, repair and restoration of about 600 non-profit and for-profit charter schools in Florida, $100 million was set aside in Scott’s budget. In contrast, $164.6 million is being allotted for the same purposes to over 4,000 Florida public schools.

Under Scott’s budget, charter schools receive about $125,000 more per school.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 67 percent of all charter schools in the country are independently run by non-profit, single site schools, while 13 percent are run by for-profit companies. The other 20 percent are run by non-profit organizations that run more than one charter.

Scott’s budget will allot over $25 million more than the previous scholastic year to both non-profit and for-profit charters alike. As a result, Alachua County public school educators like Susan Bowles, a kindergarten teacher at Lawton Chiles Elementary School, have voiced their concerns specifically over the money being allotted to for-profit charter schools.

“There are some good charter schools out there and some good charters in Alachua County,” Bowles said. “What I have a problem with are the for-profit charters. A lot of those are run by people who have a vested interest in real estate and are getting money from the state for their facilities when they actually already own them.”

Bowles said she is concerned about privatization, or transferring some responsibilities relating to education from the state to private interests. As a result of privatization, money that would be invested in public schools ultimately goes towards  funding these for-profit institutions, she explained.

Sue Legg, the chair of the Florida Project on School Choice for the League of Women Voters of Alachua County, has expressed her own concern with the budget because she said it could further promote privatization on a statewide level.

Sue Legg, the chair of the Florida Project on School Choice for the League of Women Voters of Alachua County, attends the Florida statewide education team caucus in  Tallahassee. Legg operates the LWV education blog where she provides readers  with resources regarding pertinent legislation.

Sue Legg, the chair of the Florida Project on School Choice for the League of Women Voters of Alachua County, attends the Florida statewide education team caucus in Tallahassee. Legg operates the LWV education blog where she provides readers with resources regarding pertinent legislation. Photo courtesy of Sue Legg

“Privatization means that we are using state resources for charter schools that are essentially private schools,” Legg said. “They’re called public, but they’re privately owned.”

High turnover rates are a reality for teachers at for-profit charters because of the high costs involved in paying for facilities such as libraries and computer labs.

These teachers are ultimately put on at-will contracts, meaning they could be fired without a day’s notice. They end up working for a lower salary and fewer benefits, Legg said.

Alachua Learning Center’s administrative director Christian Rivera said money being allocated to these for-profit charters is necessary to the vitality of Title 1 public and non-profit charter schools such as the ALC.

As part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, Title 1 is a federally funded program that aims to assist low-income and at-risk students by providing a suitable scholastic environment. For ALC, the problem lies in the lack of available space necessary to educate their students.

“Some of our teachers share classrooms,” Rivera said. “They’re doing the best they can with the space that we currently have. It’s because of their dedication that our middle school is one of the best in Alachua County.”

With Scott’s overall budget increase of $261 per student funding, Rivera would like to see technology upgrades in an effort to improve student education at ALC. There is a need for such upgrades, as many of ALC’s students do not have access to computers at home.

Even with such an increase per student, Bowles is worried that the distribution of funds being allotted to for-profit charter schools will prevent a large number of public schools from benefiting, even with the $164.6 million allocation.

“That’s the downside to investing in these kind of charter schools,” Bowles said. “Legislators have to understand that public schools are losing out on money. Schools are not a business. It’s about people. It’s about children.”

Education | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Day Sponsorship Payments
Underwriting Payments