Courtesy The Palm Beach Post
For 40 years, the entire farming community of Palm Beach County received invaluable assistance from Marvin Umphrey “Red” Mounts from Oklahoma. After he graduated from agricultural college at the University of Florida in 1925, Mounts was hired as Palm Beach County’s first assistant agricultural extension agent. His territory covered 1,261,000 acres.
Through Mounts and his successors, the University of Florida Agricultural Research and Education Center, started in 1924 as the Everglades Experiment Station, has continually offered new information to those farmers who would take it. During the Depression, their research discovered the benefits, for example, of St. Augustine grass and sugarcane for dairy cattle. Farmers could also bring their sick livestock or plants to discover and cure what ailed them.
Mounts encouraged farm families to expand their usual crops of green beans and tomatoes to a variety of tropical fruits and up to 18 vegetables to improve their health as well as their finances. He introduced a grass for cattle grazing that held up on wet soil, investigated the best fertilizers and pesticides, and taught farmers about marketing. He showed cattlemen how to breed Cracker cows with beefier types from up north and how to fatten them faster with new strains of grasses. He collected soil samples and helped identify which nutrients were needed. When not in the field, Mounts would compile farming statistics, lecture to garden clubs, and preach the gospel of agriculture at school career days. Mounts also formed the first chartered 4-H Club in Florida and helped to establish the Audubon Society of the Everglades.
In his early days on the job, it took Red Mounts two days to travel from his office in the county courthouse to the Glades using barges and the Conners Toll Road, or Conners Highway, now US 98/Southern Boulevard. Within four years he was chief extension agent, on his way to expanding an office that would have 12 assistants. By the time he retired in 1965, the county’s agricultural industry had grown from $2 million to $120 million annually.