Ask a Florida resident where his or her tomato came from in the winter, and you may hear Winn Dixie, Publix or Kash 'n Karry but not the fields of Florida. For those who work in the sate's agriculture, these facts are recognized.

But when you ask citizens about the value of the Florida's agriculture industry, most don't have a carrot of an idea that Florida ranks second nationally in the production of fresh vegetables and horticultural products. California leads the nation in producing these crops.

Starting this spring, the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is launching a multifaceted agriculture awareness initiative aimed at educating Florida's 16 million residents about the importance of the state's agriculture and natural resource industries.

"Our goal is to work with the agriculture community and media to raise the visibility and awareness of Florida's diverse agriculture and natural resource industry," says Joan Dusky, UF assistant dean for Extension. "Most Florida citizens don't realize how these industries impact their everyday life."

As part of the initiative, David Mulkey, a professor and associate chair of UF's food and resource economics department, and Alan Hodges, an associate in the department, are conducting research to demonstrate the total economic impact that agriculture and natural resources have on the state.

"We are looking at all industry sectors and how they relate to agriculture and natural resources,? Hodges says. "Our model also includes economic multipliers for 'spinoff' economic benefits. For example, with every ag dollar generated, there can be up to a $2.50 return in regional economic activity."

Hodges says that nonmarket benefits, such as green space, watersheds, wildlife habitats and tourism, will also be evaluated.

According to the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service, 43,000 commercial farms cover 10.1 million acres, approximately one-third of the state's land mass. Florida leads national production in citrus, snap beans, fresh-market tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and sugarcane. The state ranks second in the production of greenhouse and nursery products, sweet corn, peppers and strawberries.

To help UF get the message out, Scott Emerson has been hired to develop and deliver the initiative's outreach efforts. Emerson says he plans to work closely with media, growers, commodity associations, extension agents and other industry organizations.

To learn more about the Florida Agriculture Awareness Initiative, contact Emerson at semerson@ufl.edu or call (352) 392-1588.