Dundee Ridge Middle FFA Takes Title of Polk County Farm Bureau 2022 Program of the Year
story and photo by PAUL CATALA
For Bella Dykes, it is hands-on classroom experiences that have encouraged her to pursue her goal of becoming a veterinarian. For the time being, she’s focusing on learning about the basics of agriculture, raising and tending livestock, and experiencing firsthand the importance of Florida agriculture.
Those principles are just a few of the lessons and goals agriculture teacher and advisor Edward “Eddie” Congdon has set out for students at the Dundee Ridge FFA Chapter at Dundee Ridge Middle Academy. Along with Congdon, Kasie Herndon is also a Dundee Ridge FFA advisor who started at the beginning of the school year.
The program’s success in accomplishing those goals while also instilling a sense of pride in Florida agriculture is just part of why it earns the title of Polk County Farm Bureau 2022 Program of the Year.
Dundee Ridge also was named Program of the Year in 2002.
During a recent class, Congdon showed some of the students how to properly clip nails on some of the school’s rabbits. Among those who watched closely is Bella, 11, a sixth-grader who is raising a market hog in the school’s barn and visits the animal at least three times per week.
“This is my fourth year showing at competitions, and the time here really helps me with everyday care,” she says. “(Congdon) teaches us a lot, and he’s a fun teacher with a lot of personality and passion.”
In addition to the ag-livestock care classes, the ag students at Dundee Ridge can participate in after-school agriculture programs such as livestock and horse judging, tool identification, and citrus judging. The students spend about two hours for three days each week working with animals or crops.
“I teach the love of agriculture to students in grades 6 to 8. I am so proud of my students and seeing them accomplish their goals,” says Congdon, 48, a lifelong Haines City resident.
Congdon grew up doing chores on an 80-acre farm in Haines City, where he helped raise hogs and cattle and tended groves.
“From the time I could walk, I was helping on the farm and knew that farming would be in my blood for life,” says Congdon, who earned his elementary education degree from Florida Southern College.
That love of agriculture and the traditional agrarian Florida lifestyle in addition to the instructors’ combined years of experience in the field helped this school stand out and get recognized.
Polk County Farm Bureau Executive Director Carole McKenzie says students who’ve already passed through his classes remember the skills he taught and reinforced at Dundee Ridge. Those include lessons about diverse types of animals that are studied and raised, breeding programs, and studies on various stages of animals’ lives.
“He is well-remembered and long admired by former students who say that they continue to appreciate the important lessons they learned in his classroom,” McKenzie says.
“I’ve met a few of his former students, and they are always so excited to see and talk to him.”
That contagious excitement has been behind multiple awards the program has won over the years. Among them: 17 top five State Citrus Evaluations; 14 top 10 State Livestock Evaluation Teams; five top 10 Poultry Evaluation teams; and 23 top five Ornamental Horticulture Demonstration Teams. One of the most outstanding achievements was when the students won state championships.
The program had five state titles, and in 2021, it won three out of five divisions in the State Ornamental Horticulture Demonstration at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
For 2022, Dundee Ridge has 80 FFA members. Of those, 27 are exhibiting market hogs at the Polk County Youth Fair and five steers at the Polk County Youth Fair; 10 members are exhibiting breeding goats; and six have poultry. There are also 10 members with either purebred or commercial cattle going to the Polk County Youth Fair, Florida State Fair, and the Central Florida Youth in Agriculture.
Congdon, who was a member of the Haines City FFA Chapter when he was a high school student, says the support Dundee Ridge has given the FFA program has been outstanding.
“At the end of the year, I want my kids to take away a love and appreciation for
agriculture,” he says. “Agriculture programs are important because they teach students
where their food comes from and opens the door to many career options. It is an honor to be recognized by the Farm Bureau. It’s exciting to see that folks recognize the work put into having a great ag program.”