As a student at Glastonbury High School, Brittany Florio was part of the FFA program, where she fell in love with plant science. She was hesitant about attending college but flourished after enrolling in the Ratcliffe Hicks horticulture program.
“I didn’t think I was college material, or that I was smart enough or good enough,” she says. “One of my high school teachers placed the Ratcliffe Hicks application in my hand and helped me through the process. I ended up in college because someone showed me the way.”
Florio went on to earn an associate of applied science degree in ornamental horticulture and a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and natural resources with a minor in women’s studies at UConn, then a master’s degree in sustainable food systems and agriculture at University of Massachusetts.
“I loved studying plant science and looked forward to my classes,” Florio says. “But I also enjoyed working at the Women’s Center and was part of the Violence Against Women Prevention Program. At the time, I didn’t know how I was going to combine these two passions. One of the things that helped bring it all together was my thesis on women as the key to food security.”
During her last semester at UConn, Florio studied abroad at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “It was one of the most profound experiences of my life. It brought me outside of my bubble.”
After graduating from UConn, she worked at several vegetable farms in New York and was a partner in a cooperative Certified Naturally Grown herb farm. “Farming gave me a connection between what I learned in the classroom and real-life experience. That was very rewarding.”
Unfortunately, Florio suffered an injury while hiking and decided to find a position that was less physically demanding. She joined the University of Massachusetts at Amherst as a teaching assistant, then adjunct professor in the Department of Environmental Conservation, where she taught until spring 2018.
“I absolutely love being in the classroom and facilitating interactive dialog, service projects and field trips,” Florio says. “I believe education is the key to all of our societal issues. At UConn, I was fortunate to have a few teaching assistant positions that helped me get into teaching and realize that I loved being there.”
Florio is also a program associate with the non-profit group Farm to Institution New England (FINE), a network of public and private organizations working collaboratively to transform our food system by increasing the amount of sustainable, local food served in New England’s institutions such as schools, universities, hospitals and prisons. She says, “We envision an equitable and just food system that provides access to healthy and abundant food for all New Englanders and is defined by sustainable and productive land and ocean ecosystems.”
Florio has fond memories of her time at the Storrs campus. “I loved being a student at UConn,” she says. “I was so grateful for the supportive community at the College. I feel like I would have been lost without that, but I had people looking out for me. I also don’t think I would have been able to afford UConn without all the support from various scholarships.”
Florio likes to tell her students to trust in their own future. “I never imagined I’d be where I am now in my career,” she says. “Give it time, you’ll figure it out. Recognize that you can’t always do it alone. Show gratitude and appreciation for people willing to help you along the way and give back.”
“The best advice I ever received was this: Find a person you think has your ideal job and reach out to them. Ask questions. Find out how they got to where they are. I asked someone to lunch and told them I admired what they were doing, and they offered me a job on the spot.”
Florio will move back to the Hudson Valley area of New York in the summer of 2019. “UMass is a leader in the field of sustainable food systems. I’d like to bring my experience to a community not quite as established and help them grow.”
In the meantime, she stays busy trying new things such as playing the mandolin and spending time enjoying the outdoors. “I love to arrange wildflowers, as well as other do-it-yourself projects such as making maple syrup and raising chickens for fresh eggs. I am a nature lover at heart.”