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Teens get immersed in college life, entrepreneurship at 4-H University

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Emily Lightner, 17, is passionate about pigs — show pigs, to be exact.

A long time 4-H member in Seminole County, Lightner has been interested in agriculture from a young age. When she was 11 years old, she told her parents she wanted to start breeding show pigs and convinced them to drive her to Ohio to get piglet from a prize-winning litter.

“From there, I started showing all over the United States and have raised over 100 pigs a year with my business, Lightner Show Pigs. I also go around Florida teaching kids about what I do,” she said.

Lightner won a $1,500 investment in her business last year when she attended 4-H University and participated in the Gator Pit competition. This year, Drew Sheahan, founder of Resoncierge, will sponsor the contest.

In the Gator Pit, contestants pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges for a chance to win seed money. Gator Pit can be viewed live at on Aug. 1 at 6:15 p.m.

“The whole business has never been about how much money I could make. It’s been about helping kids and making the best better,” Lightner said. “With the money I won, I was able to buy a bigger stock trailer and higher quality pigs for this year’s breeding.”

This year, 340 youth from across the state are expected to attend 4-H University, set for July 31 to August 4 at the University of Florida.

4-H University is designed to introduce youth to college life, and help them explore career opportunities and community service, said Sarah Hensley, a state specialized agent for the Florida 4-H Youth Development Program. Florida 4-H programs are administered by the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.

“4-H University is the premier 4-H event that brings youth from all backgrounds together at the University of Florida campus to interact with UF professors and build relationships with important adults who can support them when they go to get a job later in life,” Hensley said.

After high school, Lightner plans to go out west to a community college and judge livestock. After that, she wants to earn a degree in animal science from a four-year university. “As of right now, I know that I want to stay in the agricultural field and help better the next generation of young people who share my passion,” she said.

Lightner was recently crowned Miss United States Agriculture Florida’s People’s Choice and went on to compete at the national pageant in Alabama.


By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.