4-H Tri-County Potato Project

4-H TRI-COUNTY POTATO PROJECT: TOGETHER EVERYONE ACHIEVES MORE
P. Fletcher, UF/IFAS Extension Putnam County, East Palatka, FL; A. Hedstrom, UF/IFAS Extension Flagler County, Bunnell, FL; M. Hunter, UF/IFAS Extension Flagler County, Bunnell, FL; J. Kelly, UF/IFAS Extension St Johns County, St. Augustine, FL; W. Lynch, UF/IFAS Extension Putnam County, East Palatka, FL; C. McCazzio, UF/IFAS Extension Putnam County, East Palatka, FL; G. Sachs, UF/IFAS Extension St Johns County, St. Augustine, FL; M. Warren, UF/IFAS Extension Flagler County, Bunnell, FL; B. Wells, UF/IFAS Extension St Johns County, St. Augustine, FL.
Situation: In our economy, there is a growing interest among consumers concerning food systems, the source of food, and food safety. At the same time, an annual report released by STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Food and Ag Council states there is a shortage of youth agricultural professionals and a need for new professionals trained in STEM fields.  The objective of the Tri-County 4-H Potato Project is to provide hands on, science based learning experiences that will increase youth’s STEM knowledge,  raise an awareness of the agriculture industry, and provide workforce readiness life skills. Methods: UF/IFAS Extension 4-H, Commercial Agriculture, Family and Consumer Sciences, and Horticulture Agents from Flagler, Putnam, and St Johns Counties partnered with the UF/IFAS Hastings Agricultural Research Center and community stakeholders to provide an experiential, hands-on learning opportunity in commercial potato production.  Youth participated in planting and harvesting field days, grew their own potato plant at home, demonstrated entrepreneurship and community service, and completed a Potato Project Activity Guide.  Results: At the completion of the project in 2015, youth were given a retro pre/post survey using a likert-type scale of 1 “Strongly Disagree” to 4 “Strongly Agree” to self-report their knowledge before and after the project.  Youth surveyed (n=38) self-reported:
o 68% gain in understanding of the agriculture (potato) industry
o 68% gain in awareness of the challenges facing the agriculture (potato) industry
o 81% gain in understanding the scientific part of the agriculture (potato) industry
In 2016, the project has been expanded to include over 200 youth and their families and educational stations taught by community stakeholders and local growers.
Conclusion: Feeding a global population that is projected to increase to 9 billion people over the next 35 years will require STEM trained professionals to face the challenge of making agriculture more efficient and productive.  It is our intention to sow a seed of interest which inspires youth to pursue future education and careers in agricultural STEM fields.
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