PCFB’s Ag Program of the Year

PCFB’s Ag Program of the Year
Lots of ‘Fishy’ Business at Crystal Lake Middle School

The Polk County Farm Bureau awarded the Outstanding Agriculture Program of the Year to a creative group of educators at Crystal Lake Middle School. The key to the C.L.M.S. Agriculture Education program’s success was changing from an exclusively traditional rural Central Florida Ag model— citrus, cattle, etc.— to also include an aquaculture component.[emember_protected custom_msg=”Click here and register now to read the rest of the article!”]

The wheels were put into motion by the program’s lead staff, Ag Ed teacher Gregory West. The idea came from an effort to engage more students in the more urban neighborhood, where C.L.M.S. is located. “Using a program like aquaculture more closely reflects the interests of the school population,” says West. There are currently about 400 students participating— a manifold increase over the Ag Ed program prior to the aquaculture addition, and a great indicator of the program’s success.

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic life. The program at C.L.M.S. has 20,000 gallons worth of tanks. They started the program six years ago, raising just red fish. The number of species has extended now to catfish, bass, tilapia, tropicals, ornamentals, and others.

The aquaculture program is a huge commitment of resources, especially staff and student time since it has to be manned every day of the year— including holidays and summer break. West is quick to recognize the efforts and support of the Polk County School Board staff. “Buying equipment for a big operation like this takes resources and resolve. We couldn’t have even gotten started without support from people like [now retired] David Byrd, who headed up the Polk County Ag Programs, and John Small, the head of Workforce Education,” elaborates West. He also notes that a startup grant 6 years ago helped with initial expenses.

Greg grew up in the “cornbelt,” attended Iowa State University for his degree in Ag Ed, and was heavily influenced to pursue his career by his grandparents, who were farmers, and his father, who was a superintendent of schools in Iowa.

Retired principal Eileen Killabrew first brought Greg to C.L.M.S. about 15 years ago to start the Ag program. The current principal Chris Canning has been there about 8 years, and oversaw the inception and growth of the aquaculture element.

West’s favorite part of the program is watching the joy in the student’s eyes as they experience success with the projects. “I take a lot of pride in the fact that they work really hard and are dedicated to their success and the success of the program,” he says.

There are about 32 Ag Programs in Polk County, according to West, 15 of which are in middle schools. The programs encourage hands-on learning environments and are touted as excellent practical learning applications for math and science.

C.L.M.S. has a Future Farmers of America chapter and participates in the annual competitions. The C.L.M.S. aquaculture program took first place in the state for Aquaculture last year, in addition to students winning in 18 other categories. “Aquaculture is a good gateway for student’s to become interested in the broader efforts of Agriculture Education,” explains West. “They start with the fish and move on to other traditional Central Florida staples.”

The Polk County Farm Bureau recognizes outstanding programs and individuals who advance the interests of farmers and ranchers in Polk. The organization is part of the larger Florida Farm Bureau, with more than 147,000 member-families representing Farm Bureaus in 60 Florida counties. The C.L.M.S. program received the award and was recognized on October 3 at the PCFB Annual Meeting.[/emember_protected]