Citrus Growers Teach the Skills of Trade to Highlands’ Youth
As Florida growers explore alternatives to citrus, industry leaders in Highlands County are continuing to teach the next generation how to grow trees. Through the Highlands County Youth Citrus Project, teens like Hanna Farr, a junior at Avon Park High School, are growing their own citrus trees and pocketing some cash.[emember_protected custom_msg=”Click here and register now to read the rest of the article!”]
“Our hopes are we will try to gain their interest. That’s the real reason for the program,” says Bill Barber, who chairs the Youth Citrus Committee working on the project, which began in 2000—five years before the dreaded citrus greening disease was discovered in the state.
Ray Royce, executive director of the Highlands County Citrus Growers’ Association, says the project has been “tremendously successful.” He adds, “The young people involved are doing a really good job with it.”
Laurie Hurner, a citrus agent with University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) in Highlands County, says the Citrus Project is open to any child in the county from eight to 18 years old. “It keeps growing every year, which is exciting to us,” says Hurner, who logged 70 participants this year. “It’s not an easy project to do in that you have to keep up with it every day.”
Youths purchase one or two trees in April and grow them to show and sell at the next year’s county Youth Fair. They do a project board and keep a record book, so they learn about disease and marketing. A field trip is part of the program; last year, students went to Griffin Fertilizer Company in Frostproof.
“We love telling people about what we do,” says Mike Roberts, sales and marketing director for Griffin Fertilizer, a division of Ben Hill Griffin Inc. in Frostproof. “It’s not our grandfather’s business anymore. There’s a lot more technology.”
Farr won the Grand Champion award this year, enabling her to sell her tree in a live auction. On behalf of Lykes Brothers, Barber purchased the tree for $750 to plant in their office yard next to U.S. Highway 27 between Sebring and Lake Placid.
“Most of them are planted in the groves. The grove owners have really stepped up to help buy these trees,” says Barber, vice president and general manager of Lykes’ Citrus Division. The majority of trees sell for $75 to $100 at a silent auction, Hurner reports.
Every tree the youths grow is now screened before the Youth Fair for the disease spread by the Asian psyllid. This year two had the disease, although there was no outward sign of it, and were destroyed.
Farr, who wants to work as a physician’s assistant in the neonatal unit, is donating half of the proceeds to Lindsey’s Wish Inc., a Sebring-based non-profit helping children battling cancer, and their families. The rest is for her education fund.
To Farr and other youths, the Citrus Project may be part of their involvement in Future Farmers of American (FFA), whether they want a career in agriculture or not. “You don’t have to necessarily go into the field,” she observes. “It provides you another option, or an open door.”
story by CHERYL ROGERS