What’s new at Agri-Fest?


| Teaching kids about agriculture through hands-on training gets a new twist this year |

BEING HELD this year on April 6-10 and April 13-17 in Bartow, one event hosts 6,000 fourth-graders for hands-on agriculture fun and learning. This year, Agri-Fest offers time-honored traditions and new insights, showing what agriculture in Polk County is all about.

With exhibits that represent the main sectors of Polk County’s agriculture — citrus, beef cattle, phosphate, small farms, blueberries, aquaculture, horticulture, forestry, and water conservation — students will explore through these stations, presentations and hands-on activities. For instance, “The beef station gives students the opportunity to learn about the history of ranching in Florida and today’s beef cattle industry,” shares Polk UF/ IFAS Extension Agent Bridget Carlisle. “One of Florida’s first industries, beef cattle ranching was how Florida’s early pioneers made a living and shaped what is Florida today.”

There are also new additions this year. For one, according to Carole McKenzie, Executive Director of the Polk County Farm Bureau, the USDA will be at Agri-Fest to talk about agriculture jobs that are outside of direct farming or ranching. USDA Plant & Protection Quarantine Technicians, Gay Durrance and Marcia Wilcher, will be hitting home the idea that the USDA does more than just inspect meat. “We’re going to show them all the different types of jobs; that there are people working in labs, out with wildlife, or working out at the airports with dogs to make sure birds don’t fly in front of the airplanes … those are all agriculture jobs,” explains Durrance.

For another change, they are also incorporating a water element into each station, rather than having a solo exhibit. “Water conservation and water issues apply to agriculture across the board,” McKenzie says, “so we’re integrating water conservation ideas into each station.”

UF/IFAS Natural Resources and Conservation Extension Agent Shannon Carnevale and Anne Yasalonis, the Program Coordinator for Florida-Friendly Landscaping, have been tasked with incorporating water into each exhibit.

“It made sense to incorporate water into the other stations because they are all working in some way to improve water quality and to conserve water,” maintains Carnevale.

The students will learn how each agriculture sector is either improving water quality or working on water conservation. For example, McKenzie points out, at the blueberry exhibit, “Maxi-Jet is building them a model about conservative ways to do irrigation on blueberry farms.” In the beef cattle exhibit, they will show how cattle ranching can be environmentally friendly. “Ranchlands provide a natural filtration system for Florida waters,” Carlisle explains. Durrance also shares that the water display in each exhibit will grow every year.

If you would like to volunteer to help fourth graders learn about agriculture at Agri-Fest, please contact Lori Kuehl at (863) 533-0561 or email her at lorik@pcfb.org.

CREDIT

story by ERIKA ALDRICH