Students celebrate Florida ag
JOHN BUCHANANIn 2013, Florida will reach a significant milestone — the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon's arrival and the beginning of the state's long and illustrious agricultural history.
Published: December 26, 2012
Published: December 26, 2012
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam wanted a unique way to celebrate that history. He and his staff created it when they launched a youth coloring competition early this year in which elementary school students submitted their artistic interpretations of Florida's farming heritage.
The competition, titled "Florida Agriculture: 500 Years in the Making" and developed in partnership with Florida Agriculture in the Classroom Inc. and the Florida State Fair, drew upward of 500 entries from 65 schools from Pensacola to Miami.
In January, three winners — representing K and first grade, second and third grades, and fourth and fifth grades — will be named. The artwork from all contestants, with the winners being prominently featured, will be displayed at the Florida State Fair February 7-18 in Tampa.
"When we launched the competition, we weren't sure of what kind of participation we'd get, because teachers are very busy in their classrooms and they have a lot of resources available," said Erica Der, agricultural education liaison at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Tallahassee. "So we were very pleased by the level of participation we got and that it got such a great response from so many diverse areas of the state."
One of Putnam's key goals, Der said, was to interest young students in agriculture and to motivate them to pursue farming careers.
"But another goal," Der said, "was simply to educate students that agriculture is the No. 2 industry in the state and very, very important to our economy."
To help broaden that effort, FDA also sponsored a similar fine arts competition for middle and high school students that included agriculturally themed photography, oil paintings and watercolors. Those entries will be judged by a panel and 12 winning pieces of work also will be displayed at the Florida State Fair, as well as at the state Capitol.
The youth contest initially evolved from the development of a book, "Florida's Farm History," that will be published in January for elementary school students by Florida Agriculture in the Classroom. It will be promoted across the state on Agriculture Literacy Day next April.
"As we were working on the illustrations for that book," Der said, "we asked the illustrator to design a coloring page that accompanied the book so that students could be a part of the project."
That page, in turn, became the template for the competition. And after the book comes out, that page can still be utilized by teachers and parents as a teaching aid.
Der credited the enthusiastic participation of elementary school teachers across the state as one of the most important reasons for the success of the competition.
Among the most successful was Michele Curts, who teaches agriculture at Chipley High School in Chipley, north of Panama City in Washington County.
Curts worked closely with Kate Smith Elementary School to promote entries in the coloring competition. She ended up inspiring Kate Smith Elementary to become one of most productive schools in state.
"In our area, we are very proud that the state is celebrating 500 years of Florida agriculture," Curts said. "And we have an agriculture program at Chipley High School. That's what I teach. So I wanted to see our elementary school kids get involved so they could learn more about Florida agriculture and the opportunities it presents them. And I also hope it helps recruit more students into our high school agriculture program, because agriculture is extremely important to our area."
Washington County primarily grows peanuts and cotton and also is home to cattle ranches.
Curts said she was pleasantly surprised by the results her local efforts generated.
"It's very exciting," she said. "This is only my second year teaching in the agriculture program, so it's always good to hear that we're making good strides in getting more students interested in agriculture. And the kids are excited, too, that their art work is going to be displayed at the Florida State Fair for people from all over the state to see."
Putnam and Der also were also pleased with the results of their inaugural effort to motivate more educational involvement from young students and their teachers - so pleased, in fact, that based on the success of this year's competition discussions are under way to make it an annual event.