MILTON — Youth agricultural programs offer numerous benefits for Santa Rosa County students and schools. Here are five things you may not have known about them.
1. MORE SANTA ROSA YOUTHS ARE INTERESTED IN AGRICULTURE. Agriculture has always been a Santa Rosa County staple; however, there has recently been an incline in support and participation for youth-centered agricultural programs.
“So many times, the ag world takes the back burner,” Mitch Lambeth, science and agriculture foundations teacher at Central School in Milton, said. “It’s gaining some respect through the community.”
Lambeth, in his fourth year teaching at Central, said that during his first year, just three students took part in livestock shows.
“Most kids were going to Escambia County,” he said. “I started pushing it and asking around. The next year, there were about 12.”
The numbers have been growing, Lambeth said. This year, between 30 and 40 Santa Rosa students participated in the county fair’s livestock shows.
“It’s a community and a culture that surrounds [agriculture],” Lambeth said.
2. YOUTH AGRICULTURAL PROGRAMS TEACH LIFE SKILLS. Projects that Central students complete within agriculture courses teach them leadership, math, science and marketing skills, according to Lambeth.
When students raise a swine or a steer, they must get it to a certain weight before they can show the animal. This requires knowledge of math and science when measuring the animal’s growth and learning about its protein intake.
Further, students must market themselves when competing in livestock shows, Lambeth said. This requires strong knowledge about the animals, in addition to public speaking and sales skills, as most of the animals shown are available for purchase.
3. YOUTH AG PROGRAMS BRING A SENSE OF PRIDE, OWNERSHIP AND RESPONSIBILITY. Students in youth agriculture programs must give significant effort to raise animals. When they reach their goals and attain placement in livestock shows, they often feel proud of their hard work, which motivates them to do better.
“So many times, I believe, public education forces kids into boxes,” Lambeth said. “The creativity and responsibility of students have been taken away.”
According to Lambeth, many students may not excel at subjects such as math or reading, but they find their niche within agriculture. Many students have even been offered jobs with people they have met at livestock shows.
4. HEIGHTENED AGRICULTURAL INTEREST LEADS TO CAMPUS IMPROVEMENTS. Students’ increased participation, and the amount of money the school raises, allows Central to expand. The school just finished constructing a new building that includes a classroom, laboratory and workshop.
Besides the addition, the campus includes several portable classrooms, a barn and 4 acres of land equipped to house animals.
Further, Coastal Machinery of Pensacola has donated supplies, including an all-terrain vehicle, to Central’s agriculture program.
“We are becoming one of the most comprehensive facilities in Northwest Florida,” Lambeth said.
5. STUDENTS AND SCHOOLS CAN RECEIVE A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF MONEY. It takes students most of the school year to raise swine and steer to display at livestock shows. Students must get their animals to reach a certain weight that differs depending on the type of animal.
If the children achieve placement within a livestock show, they receive cash prizes, also known as “premiums.” During shows, most of the livestock is available for sale.
At the 2017 Santa Rosa County Fair, students raised $38,944.50 in sales of steer and swine; this excludes money raised through premiums.
“[The projects] allow them to take ownership, and they kind of get to set up their own scholarship fund,” Lambeth said.