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Feed the hungry: First Sebring Church sowing a community garden
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SEBRING — If you’ve seen some bare patches of ground around First Sebring Church, they aren’t re-sodding. They’ll soon be sowing.

Church members have paid out plans for a community garden, to include citrus and olive trees, vegetables, herbs, berries, rental plots for families, a sensory prayer garden and an outdoor chapel.

Thursday found one of the organizers, Britten Miller, going over a printed map of the future layout for the garden, struggling to put it to graph paper to make a plan for the irrigation contractor to lay out the lines.

“I want to work with ending hunger,” said Miller, who remembers the first time he “weighed mulch” to put around trees was at that same church, at age 9, helping with his family business.

“My grandfather taught me what I know about gardening,” Miller said.

Now he’s adding his knowledge to others’ who have a vision for the southeast corner of the property. Pastor David Juliano said he had a vision, starting five years ago when the church tore down a dilapidated house on the southeast corner of 401 E. Center Ave.

He’d thought several times about having the church start up a community garden, but the time just wasn’t right, until this year. Then God spoke to him, he said, promising to grow the church in home and garden.

Assistant Pastor Rich Storts joined the church, with a passion for feeding the poor, and then Miller came along, a young man studying agriculture at South Florida State College. They have marshaled people and donations to make the garden a reality.

“This was God’s answer,” Juliano said. “Everything started falling into place.”

Miller said he got inspiration from a conversation at 413 Inspired Barber Shop and with Juliano about the dream for the garden. Juliano said Miller “lights up” when he talks about agriculture.

“He’s like a ball of fire,” Juliano said.

That passion has helped bring in donations. They got Jimmy Somers of Somers Irrigation Supply to bring in his tractor to plow the ground. Volunteers have cleared all the grass, roots and rocks from some of the plots.

Somers, Miller said, will donate design and supply of irrigation for the site. Nicholas Degue of Grandpa’s Garden Company LLC will give seeds and supplies. Martha Carson has given mulch, and Beth Skipper will give compost dirt.

Jacey McHargue of Hamilton’s Fruit Tree Nursery & More will donate fruit trees and supplies, Miller said. Thomas Marken of Green 2 Go Nursery will donate plants, soil and supplies. Bonnie Plants Inc. will donate $150 of plants.

Bernie Little Distributors in Sebring has pledged unlimited pallets, usually broken up for planter boxes. A large pile is already on site. The church is also supplying soil and mulch.

Other donations include a $100 Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse card from Jane Hancock and Don Applequist, along with an anonymous $100 donation.

Miller said the plan is to use permaculture, an agriculture method that uses organic fertilization and systems found in nature to sustain fertility in the soil.

They plan to have a beehive on site, to help pollinate the plants. People who want to draw bees to their backyard gardens can use sunflowers — which this garden will have — and marigold flowers.

For now, they still need to get plants in the ground. Anyone interested in helping with their hands or their donations can contact Miller at 863-414-1818.

SFSC student wins 2021 Skoch Scholarship for research
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AVON PARK — South Florida State College (SFSC) student Camila Rimoldi Ibanez was awarded the $1,000 Skoch Scholarship through Florida Sea Grant. Rimoldi Ibanez is a Sebring High School senior dually enrolled at SFSC.

The Skoch Scholarship is awarded to an outstanding high school senior competing in the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida. The scholarship recognizes promising young researchers in a coastal or marine science-related field.

“We are thrilled to learn of Camila winning the 2021 Skoch Scholarship,” said Dr. James Hawker, SFSC dean of arts and sciences. “She won because of the undergraduate coral research project she conducted at SFSC this past year. It is gratifying that talented and deserving students like her have the chance to win scholarships for university transfer, because SFSC promotes expanded learning by students doing research projects with faculty mentors.”

Rimoldi Ibanez researched whether a species of coral has genes that are associated with the reception or emission of sound in her award-winning project, “Ultrasonic Planimals! Identifying Genes Associated with Coral Bioacoustics.”

According to Rimoldi Ibanez’s research abstract: “Because corals make up the ‘rainforests of the sea,’ this ecosystem is believed to be highly dependent on communication to grow and survive. Many organisms that live in coral reefs, including coral larvae, perceive and are guided by sound when trying to find their way to coral reefs to develop.”

To conduct the study, Rimoldi Ibanez performed genetic analysis on coral DNA, looking for evidence of four genes known to be sound-sensitive. Two of the sound-sensitive genes, called TRPV and FOLH1, displayed “faint bands” in the gene presence analysis, indicating that they may be present in corals and that further research is warranted.

Rimoldi Ibanez graduates from Sebring High School and earns her Associate in Arts degree from SFSC in May. She plans to continue her education at Nova Southeastern University or Florida Atlantic University.

Funding for this scholarship is provided by the Skoch family of Boynton Beach in memory of Charles “Chuck” Skoch, an avid fisherman, boat captain, and Florida resident who prematurely died in an automobile accident at age 51.

Florida Sea Grant is a university-based program that supports research, education, and extension to conserve coastal resources and enhance economic opportunities for residents of Florida. It is partnered with the Florida Board of Education, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Florida’s citizens and governments.

County sees fewer cases of COVID
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Highlands County saw a drop in new cases of COVID-19 when the daily update from the Florida Department of Health released its data. As a matter of fact, it was the first time new cases have been in the single digits in weeks with just nine cases reported. All nine new cases were from residents.

The new cases brings the total cases to 8,352. Of those cases, 8,260 were residents and 92 were non-residents. There were no new deaths reported overnight and they remained at 342. There have been 649 hospitalizations since the pandemic started. The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) showed 34 people fighting COVID-19 in the hospital as of 3:47 p.m. on Monday. Across the state, there were 3,371 hospitalizations per AHCA.

Testing fell dramatically from just under 300 tests processed on Saturday to just under 100 (98) on Sunday. The 98 tests processed had 88 negative results for a positivity rate of 10.2%. The rate is better than Sunday’s rate of 11.86% but is still too high.

Long-term care facilities have risen to 703 cases of infection. The FDOH reported 92 residents or staff from long-term care facilities have died from the virus.

Florida saw fewer cases than it has since before April 12, which is the last day available on the report with 3,371 new cases. The total cases of infection for the state were 2,212,097 as of Monday. Residents made up the majority of COVID cases at 2,170,655 and non-residents have made up 41,442 infections.

The state’s luck did not hold out with deaths as it did with new cases. There were 66 new deaths reported overnight, bringing the total deaths to 35,600. The previous day’s deaths were 37.

The state’s testing continued to fall and at the time of the report, only 49,885 were processed. There were 46,254 negative results. The positivity rate went up a tick to 7.28%.

Numbers in the United States were the best seen in some time, as states reported just 29,672 new cases on Sunday. That’s the lowest raw case count since the Labor Day holiday and the lowest non-holiday case count since June.

Not all states report on weekends, making numbers released Tuesday a better indicator of where the country is, although the new cases were 10 – 260 fewer than were seen last Monday.

The seven-day average in the U.S. is 54,942, which is down 16% from a week ago.

There were 349 deaths reported, a decrease of 48 from last week. The seven-day average of deaths is 683, which is a 5% decrease from the 719 seen a week ago.

The country’s seven-day average for positivity rate is 3.70%, which is a slight decrease from yesterday.

According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the United States has seen a total of 32.1 million cases and had 572,419 deaths.

Globally, there have been 147.4 million cases and 3,113,666 deaths.