OVER THE PAST few years, schools around Polk County have been adding new components to their agriculture programs. One growing addition I keep seeing is aquaculture and aquaponics.
There is one school, however, that I’ve been told numerous times I need to visit. Now, I knew this school existed. I used to go once a week to drop off KidsPACK meals. But, I NEVER knew about their amazing agriculture program. This school is in the heart of Lake Wales, Florida, and is nothing short of amazing.
Roosevelt Academy has had a full operating production farm for the past 21 years. The farm is run completely by the students, with a little help from their teachers, Mr. Cruze and Mr. Bean. Now what is so amazing about that? If you do not already know, Roosevelt is an ESE school. Their vision is to be a “saving grace” to the community, and just from what I learned in my visit with them, their vision definitely stands true.
Their OJT program helps to ensure every single graduate they have has a job that they can build their career with. Most of the students that graduated last year already have jobs, making an average of $50,000 a year. With their work in the agriculture program, the students can leave with a very impressive resume showing their knowledge in the field!
Now, like I said, the farm is 21 years in production. It is the largest aquaponics garden and multi-crop farm in Lake Wales. It also has three different forms of crop production: hydroponics, traditional, and aquaponics.
The hydroponics crop uses a vertical growing system, and grow bags full of coconut husks. The traditional method uses plastic mulch on raised beds and also utilizes drip irrigation. The aquaponics uses waste from the fish to supply the proper nutrients the plants need to grow. Everything in the program is reused and recycled until it cannot be used anymore.
The students grow a large variety of vegetables and herbs such as bell peppers, ethnic peppers, squash, zucchini, grape tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, romaine lettuce, eggplant, collards, bush beans, peppermint, rosemary, oregano, and the list goes on. On average, they raise over 3,000 onions, 1,600 tomatoes, and 2,400 peppers each year. The vegetables are picked and sold within hours every day to the teachers at Roosevelt and at the Lake Wales Care Center.
Mr. Cruze and Mr. Bean would like to thank every person that has helped to build their program up to what it is now. Their sponsors are from all over the country and they could not be more thankful for the friendships they have built over the past 30 years that the program has been around.
If you would like to contribute to the program by purchasing their delicious and healthy produce, please contact Mr. Cruze at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That wraps it up for this month. While you are going out to pick the perfect pumpkin this month, make sure to thank a pumpkin farmer. See y’all next month!
article by ABBY CRAWFORD
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Abby Crawford is currently enrolled at Warner University, majoring in Agriculture Studies with hopes to go into the agriculture education or communications field. She is the former president of the Haines City High School FFA chapter as well as the voice behind 97 Country’s segment, “Ag Time with Abby,” which airs the first Friday of every month during the Breakfast Club with Roger and Melissa. Abby is also the 2014 Polk County Farm Bureau Youth Speech Contest Winner. For questions, FFA news, or FFA story ideas, email Abby at email@example.com.