Island Family Fun in the Name of Agriculture


An event to support the founding of a world-class education program

Warner University is determined — with the help of some significant partners and community support — to provide a world-class agriculture education opportunity for Central Florida college students. The idea has been gaining traction for several years, and fundraising for the facilities was officially launched by university leadership at the Brahma Island Family Day on Saturday, December 1.

Brahma Island, a privately owned freshwater island surrounded by the waters of Lake Kissimmee, has been in the Lightsey family for generations. The Lightsey Cattle Company opened the land to hunters in the mid-1970s. The Lightsey family played host on Brahma Island to the Warner University fundraiser. Lauren Lewis, Director of Agricultural Studies at Warner, reported that over $200,000 was raised in cash and pledges at the event.

“We are really excited by the turnout, community support, and initial giving for the kickoff,” says Lewis. “We want people to be aware of the program and know that we have tremendous support from key players in Central Florida agriculture.”

Adam Putnam, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, was the special guest speaker for the day. Putnam seems keen on the idea of the agriculture studies initiative being local to Polk County. “What this is all about is supporting a talent pipeline for the local ag industry,” said Putnam in his remarks. “This is a magnet to keep our talented kids here. Ag has an awful lot of challenges, but the talent is on our side.”

Warner University officials were pleased with an attendance of about 400 guests. Many local agriculture families and companies were represented at the event. In the words of Marty Higginbotham, the auctioneer volunteering his time for the program auction, “Most of
the money in Polk County is here today.” In the spirit of generosity in keeping with the event, Higginbotham even spontaneously offered a stay at his hunting land in Missouri on the auction block, though it wasn’t scheduled to appear on the program.

Volunteers from the school and community were everywhere, helping make the day’s festivities a success. Adults and children were shuttled to the island by a variety of airboats, pontoon boats, and a local barge. One of the captains, Joey Pittman, volunteered his time and his boat for the fundraising event. Another volunteer, Winter Haven-based artist Richard Powers, painted a mural on canvas of Brahma Island during the event. The painting was then auctioned off during the fundraiser. Children’s games, a silent auction, horse rides, island tours, and other events — all manned by volunteers — filled the hours with plenty of diversions and entertainment for guests.

The day was an encouragement for those who desire to see the new agriculture program get started well. The hand-painted signs posted along the long, dusty car trail through the cow fields to the ferry parking echoed the encouragement “You’re not lost,” “You’re almost there,” “Keep going,” and “This-a-way,” which seemed to have a double-meaning for visitors (finding their way to the event) and for the school officials (who are marching toward their goal of a world-class agriculture education program). In the words of Higginbothom, “The opportunity we have before us today is an agriculture college of our own.”

CREDIT

story by MICHAEL JAMES SELF, Ed.D.