Drones, Dogs and Disease

362-maPit.AuSt.55With the killers hiding in the trees, heat-sensing drones are launched into the air. When their whereabouts are narrowed, the dogs are sent in. When it comes to protecting the world’s supply of guacamole, no weapon can be spared.

Here’s my latest story about how drones and dogs are being used to detect disease in avocado groves in Florida. And a great video (involving a GoPro harnessed to a dog) by my colleague Tony Winton:

Tobacco in America

Here’s a story I reported in August from Danville, Va.:

Virginia tobacco is still in demand and maybe always will be. Tobacco companies prize the “bright leaf” grown on Virginia’s nutrient-rich Old Belt, which produces a mild, light and aromatic taste when smoked.

I had never been to the area and didn’t realize how gorgeous it was. Also, I was kind of stunned at the beauty of the tobacco plant – especially since it’s so deadly.

Some photos I took while there:

image[1] tobacco4 tobacco2 tobacco1

Hunger in Florida

The state of Florida is offering a GIS map that allows people to look up where there are “food deserts” – places where there are few, or no mainstream grocery stores.

From a story I wrote today:

According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity, there are 3.1 million “food insecure” people in Florida. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”

A Harvard School of Public Health study released earlier this week showed that Americans’ eating habits have improved – except among the poor. Researchers said it was evidence of a widening wealth gap when it comes to diet.

Citrus in Crisis

photo 1Here’s a project I worked on this summer. It’s about a tiny insect that’s transmitting a deadly bacteria to Florida’s citrus trees. People here are very worried.

“…now the $9 billion industry is facing its biggest threat yet, putting at risk the state’s economy and very identity. Blame a mottled brown bug no bigger than a pencil eraser and a disease called “the yellow dragon.”

I remember when I first moved to Florida, and a colleague at the then-St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) took me to a friend’s ranch. We picked some fresh oranges and squeezed the life out of them. Then we mixed the juice with vodka. Yum.

One of my favorite parts of this project was researching the history of Florida citrus. Walt Disney’s parents once farmed citrus in Florida. So did Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Video from the AP’s Tony Winton:

Photo by the AP’s Lynne Sladky: 460x

“Right now, wouldn’t you enjoy a cool, refreshing glass of pure Florida orange juice? Of course you would.”



Florida news

It’s been a busy week in Florida news. In the past few days, I’ve written about an alligator that attacked a 90-year-old woman, a presidential candidate and a bug that transmits bacteria by vomiting:

1. The alligator: be really careful when walking near canals or freshwater ponds. There are monsters in Florida, and they can be very dangerous.

2. The presidential candidate: Tampa is the location of the 2012 GOP national convention. So the candidates are coming to town often and some, like Mitt Romney, are opening their Florida headquarters in Tampa as well.

3. The vomiting bug: I actually cover Florida agriculture, and it’s always fun to explain what’s going on with our trees, plants and crops.

Agriculture? Yes, Agriculture.

When I’m not traveling and writing about Sept. 11, I’m writing about Florida. My favorite thing to write about is probably crime – I was a police reporter for many years at the St. Pete Times – but I write about other things as well.

Like agriculture. Here’s my article about a team of University of Florida researchers who are trying to detect problems with Florida’s orange crops by using remote controlled helicopters.

Story here.