Children can start studying agriscience in elementary school and continue learning until they graduate high school.
Leaning her head against the fence, tail curled, one of the pigs entices Hope Brock to reach over and scratch its head. Without hesitation, Hope, a freshman at Flagler Palm Coast High School, obliges.
Hope and other high school students weren't out in the farmlands of western Flagler County but right in the middle of Palm Coast, at their middle school alma mater, for the Agronomy ribbon cutting on Wednesday, Feb. 1, at Buddy Taylor Middle School.
Grants from a variety of sources were used for the expansion and development of the agronomy learning areas.
“We received about $19,000 in grants,” Medearis said. “The American Farm Bureau, Farm Bureau of Florida, Tara Tech grant for education, and Weyerhaeuser, all gave us grants. We also received $5,000 from the (Flagler County) Education Foundation.”
The tours started in the CLUTCH (Collaborative Learning Using Technology To Cultivate Higher-order thinking) and DELTA labs. These labs are collaborative learning spaces where hydroponic growing systems were assembled earlier in the year, and the students are learning about technology, including the use of drones in agriculture.
Earlier in the day, herbs and vegetables were harvested from the BTMS gardens for evening’s hors d’oeuvres.
The FPC and BTMS students provided tours and answered questions about the livestock, hydroponics and the switch grass being grown for biofuel.
While the students learn about raising and caring for animals they will show at the Flagler County Fair and Youth Show in April, they also are learning about keeping records and time management. Animal care duties are seven days a week, holidays included, and each student has an assigned time.
“The drones are not just toys, there have real life applications.” R.D. DAVIS, BTMS agriscience teacher
Gardens and animals have always been part of the BTMS landscape. R.D. Davis said the stalls and gardens were there when he began teaching at the school 20 years ago. The area, now about the length of a football field, is expected to double or triple in size in upcoming years.
One of the two steers, No. 40, was donated by the Henry family to be raised, cared for and shown by students at the Flagler County Fair and Youth Show. The family bought the steer and pays for his feed, while the students care for the animal. When sold, the proceeds will benefit a youth scholarship program for two seniors.
None of the animals “officially” have names, with the exception of Daphne the goat, who is an actual “teacher's pet.”
Four pigs were housed in the pen, and there’s room for two more. The two steers have their own stalls and a “V” gate to keep them contained, in the unlikely case a gate is left unlocked. While Daphne is the only goat in residence at the moment, there is room for more.
The expansion of the pens and stalls decreases the time the teachers and students have to spend going back and forth between the stalls on County Road 13 and increases the interaction with the animals during the school day.
Long white pipes formed an inverted “V” hydroponic system, on one side of the greenhouse, where the students will be growing lettuce, spinach and tomatoes. The greenhouse is being refurbished to house hydroponic growing systems, and a large tank will collect rainwater irrigation.
“The goal is to harvest before the end of the school year,” FPC teacher Johanna Davis said.
Students will also be using drones, in the air and submersible.
“We are showing them the drones are not just toys, there have real-life applications,” R.D. Davis said. “They will learn how to fly a drone that can be used for land survey and other agricultural needs.”
The program is one that can span a student’s entire school experience, allowing a continuous course of study.
“There are agriculture programs at Old Kings, here, and at FPC,” Medearis said. “It allows us to space different aspects through the three schools.”
As FPC student Erica Samples was heading to put some animals away for the night, she stopped to talk about her future.
“I want to be an aquatic surgeon,” Erica said. “Like in the movie, 'Dolphin Tale,' I want to help marine life like dolphin and sea turtles.”
Samples said she might be interested in working at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which was the inspiration for the movie "Dolphin Tale."