Ag class plants leaders
Broccoli sprouts pop up along with cabbage, carrots and other winter vegetables in a student garden at Hilliard Middle-Senior High School.
Agriculture Education students prepared the ground and planted a variety of vegetables, including cauliflower, collard greens, potatoes, onions, beets and celery. Newly planted citrus trees line an area nearby. They will produce fruit in a few years.
Hannah Harper and Cheyenne Tayag pulled weeds and inspected the broccoli during class Oct. 24. With its foundation in agriculture, many of the students also participate in Future Farmers of America.
Harper is the FFA chapter president and Tayag is secretary. They enjoy the hands-on approach of the agriculture education class and participating in FFA club activities.
“The most important thing we do is give everybody an equal opportunity,” Harper said. “Nobody is really, like, pushed away and they come out here.”
Tayag enjoys studying plants and animal life and the learning experiences the class delivers.
“It’s just fun,” she said, adding that she plans to study psychology in college. “It’s not anything to do with agriculture, but I do enjoy agriculture.”
Teacher Alyson McCullough leads the students through the processes of growing the garden, caring for the hens and other projects related to the class.
The biggest task the students faced that day was to install a waterline. The Nassau County School Board provided the PVC pipe and plumbing parts.
Hilliard resident Skip Frey volunteered his time to assist with the water line installation. He directed students through the process of digging a long trench and also helped students connect PVC pipe.
“I just was more than happy to help Ms. McCullough and her FFA classes,” Frey said. “They’ve all been good and energetic kids so far and then just doing what I can to help her.”
Students also added eight spigots along the property so that hoses can be attached for watering purposes. Before that, the teens wrestled with a leaky fire hose to water the garden.
“It will be easy to handle the garden hoses, “ Frey said.
Classmates Dylan Brown-
ing and Mason Wilson also assisted with the installation.
“It’s fun,” Browning said.
The installation should go a long way to help with the plan of expanding into a community garden. Students created four student plots and four community garden plots, with the community garden set to open in January.
Residents will have opportunities to either donate funds for vegetables grown or volunteer time to garden. Students already tend the grounds two days a week.
“It’s an honors science class with an industry certification test so they’re also doing major book work on top of manning this facility,” McCullough said.
Elena Sharkey wants to become a game warden. Her classroom study and FFA participation assists her career path.
“I’m trying to get the scholarship so that I can go to (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College) next year and try to help with my game warden school,” she said, adding that she needs industry certification to attain her goal.
With her sights set on working outdoors, she prefers the classroom climate.
“I just like the class because it’s just fun and I’m not the kind to sit down and do work,” Sharkey said. “I like doing hands-on stuff.”
Pumpkins will be planted in the spring so that students can offer a pumpkin patch in the fall. Spring and summer gardens will feature cucumber, squash, watermelon and eggplant.
“My main goal is creating sustainable agriculture, you know, the first thing that they know every day in my class is that 98 percent of the world is consumers and 2 percent is producers, so if you’re going to be a consumer, you’ve got to be an educated consumer,” McCullough said. “And they’re getting hands-on learning activities where, OK, they’re not going to be farmers one day, but they’ll be more conscious.”
The agriculture class and FFA experience has helped Tayag learn aspects of livestock as she, Harper and their teammates judged heifers, steer, pigs and lambs during the Northeast Florida Fair.
“We actually won first place on our team,” Tayag said.
The team will also judge livestock and poultry at the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair Nov. 9.
Harper gained leadership skills and teamwork by participating in FFA. The agriculture class and animal science studies align with her plans to become a veterinarian.
“One area, especially with like the middle schoolers – they’re learning to come out here and they’re being led by Ms. McCullough, obviously, but then they would learn leadership within themselves,” Harper said. “When we go off to sub-districts or competitions, we all work as a team, but there’s always learning that they can have.”
McCullough said that the girls are learning lifelong skills.
“They’re both great leaders – strong leaders,” she interjected. “Sometimes people think, ‘Oh we’re an ag class. All we’re going to do is get our hands dirty.’ But that’s about 30 percent of what we do in ag education. The other 60 to 70 percent is life skills, leadership skills, economic development – it’s kind of a lucky area of science because the plant science and animal science is one part, but they learn so many leadership skills and business skills that they’ll need for success no matter what area or career path that they choose.”
Harper and her classmates sell produce from the garden and also learn the basics of economics.
“That kind of gives everybody an idea, if they did want to go into agriculture, what they may be making or what the output would be,” she added.
Harper said that more kids should join FFA.
“A lot of them don’t just because of their friends or they just don’t want to come out here and work in the heat or whatever it may be,” she said. “But I think they definitely do benefit a lot and we get a lot of fun opportunities, too. We get a lot of field trips that other kids normally wouldn’t get. We went to a Rayonier cutting site last year and we actually got to see how they cut the pine trees. And then later on went to a paper mill and we saw the whole process. There’s a lot of stuff that people don’t realize that we do and I think a lot of people would enjoy it.”
Tayag agrees, saying, “The experience is definitely is worth it, because we do a lot more than what everybody realizes and it’s really fun.”