Friday, June 12, 2015

Putting Agriculture at Kids’ Fingertips

As Kalan Taylor talked about agri-business in Sumter County last week, she hoped it would inspire some of the young people in her audience to pursue a career in agriculture.

Taylor, the 4-H agent with the UF/IFAS Sumter County Extension Offices, spends much of her time sharing the history, present and future of agriculture with Sumter County youth.

During the first “Fresh from Sumter County” Ag Awareness Camp, more than a dozen children and teens traveled the county for a firsthand look at local agriculture. Taylor and Martha Maddox, the family and consumer science agent for UF/IFAS Sumter County Extension, led the tours.

Taylor’s goal was to show the children the diversity of agriculture and let them know there are thousands of careers available in the agriculture field.

“It’s not necessary to be a farmer or raise livestock to work in the field,” Taylor said. “In fact, there are more than 25,000 careers listed in the agriculture field.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sumter County had 837 farms in 2007, a number that had increased to 1,367 by 2012.

In 2007, the market value of products sold was about $29.4 million; by 2012, the total was more than $42 million.

The numbers include farms, ranches, nurseries, greenhouses, horticulture, floriculture and sod.
The children started each day at the Sumter County Extension office near Bushnell.

“We had a pre-test to see what the children knew about tours for the day and then ended the day back in the office,” Taylor said. “We talked about what we saw, what is involved with each business.”

Taylor said most of the campers who took the tour are members of the 4-H club, Sumter Farm Kidz, and have some experience with raising animals and farming.

Because of that experience, Taylor was able to delve deeper into the subjects and talk more about career opportunities in agriculture.

The first stop on the four-day program, on Monday, was the Sumter County Farmers Market, where they saw the harvest from farms around the county.

On Tuesday they visited the cattle auction, which is part of the Sumter County Farmers Market. It is held each Tuesday and averages 650 to 700 animals weekly.

“The farmers market was established in 1937, and local farmers brought their produce and livestock to sell,” said George Smith, foreman of the cattle auction.

Smith started working with the auction when he was 15 years old, left for a while and came back for a career than spans more than 30 years.

“I remember when we were moving 2,200 to 2,500 animals through the market every Tuesday,” Smith said. “There’s fewer large ranches in the county and the state. There’s only a few auctions left in the state and we’re the only one that’s member-owned. We’re a co-op instead of an individually owned business.”

This was just some of the information Smith shared with campers during their visit to the cattle pens. A tour on walkways over pens gave the children an elevated look at how the process works.
“I loved the cattle market and seeing the cows in the ring while they were being sold,” said Aubrie Persing, 11. “We’ve visited a lot of places, but all there was to learn about the auction was interesting.”

On Thursday, the campers visited Shady Brook Peaches, a pick-your-own peach orchard. The orchard’s picking season started in late April and will finish up in a week or so. But plenty of peaches remain on the trees, as the children found out during their tour of the farm.

As they walked among the rows of fruit trees, they learned how to tell which peaches were ready, and they sampled the produce while orchard owner Leonard Northup answered questions and pointed out the different varieties of fruit.

Rylee Yarbrough, 9, said she learned a lot on the walk through the orchard.
“I learned today there’s 4,000 trees on 75 acres and (Northup) has five different varieties,” Yarbrough said. “That’s a lot of trees and peaches.”

Northup said he hasn’t totaled up the number of peaches sold this season. He’s been too busy with the pick-your-own operation, and he’s also working to build a commercial business.

“Growing peaches is new to Florida, and I’ve worked with the University of Florida’s agriculture department as they developed peaches that need less-cold temperatures to produce a quality product,” he said. “This is our second harvest, and locally people are loving the peaches. We’ve had hundreds come through here on weekends. Now we have to build a commercial market.”

They finished the week on Thursday afternoon at Bud Fussell’s farm, near Webster. Fussell is president of the Sumter County Farmers Market board and sells his produce at the farmers market.
“By concluding the tours with Bud, we allow the kids to see the process — right now he is picking watermelons and beans, I think,” Taylor said. “They get a better picture of how a farm works, from growing to marketing.”

Other stops during the week were the Forestry Service to see how wild lands are preserved, a nursery, a dairy and a cattle ranch.

Patricia Steele is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9029, or

This article was originally published at

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Florida 4-H Welcomes New Associate Program Leader

Florida 4-H welcomes Chris DeCubellis as our new Associate Program Leader for 4-H Youth Development!

Chris joins State 4-H Headquarters from Gilchrist County where he has maintained a strong track record as a County Agent and an admirable passion for 4-H and for all youth. 

Chris brings ideas for helping strengthen Florida 4-H programs and reach in both rural and urban areas.  He will officially begin in this new role on July 1, 2015.