In January and April, 4-H agents, Ag Agents, FCS Agents, volunteers, and farm staff from St. Johns, Flagler and Putnam counties came together to provide two days of hands-on learning experiences for our 4-H kids at the UF/IFAS Hastings Agriculture Extension Center on Cowpen Branch Road. Planting and harvesting three varieties of potatoes (Red LaSoda, Natascha, and Adirondack Blue) is an experience they don’t get every day and, sadly, some children never see this process. At the potato project, our youth learned that their food doesn’t just show up on the shelves at the grocery store. Shocking, I know! This year the potato project went a little differently, thanks but no thanks to COVID. With truck driver shortages, the potato seeds for the acreage were not delivered in time for the fields to be planted in January. An interesting turn of events, teaching our young people about the reality of agriculture.
The kids had an opportunity to go to multiple learning stations both days. Two of our own Putnam County Extension Agents, Wendy Mussoline, Agriculture Agent, and Julio Perez, Horticulture Agent, were there to bring information to the youth. The 4-Hers learned about calculating the appropriate amount of pesticides for the area they are spraying and calibrating the machinery to make sure the precise amount is applied to the fields with Wendy. Planting their very own potatoes is always a favorite at the potato project. Julio was there to assist the children with this and teach them about the best ways to care for their plants up until harvest time. Then, after three months of growing, harvest time finally arrived!
In April, they returned to reap the benefits of the potato project. 4-H kids were educated on the process of what happens with all of these potatoes once they are out of the ground. Julio taught about the grading process of the potatoes. Allie Prevatt, a St. Johns 4-H Agent, joined the kids as the potatoes came across the grading line where any rotten or green potatoes (check out why we pull out green potatoes here https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/marionco/2018/09/15/potatoes-popular-vegetables/ ) and plant pieces or roots were removed before bagging. Other agents provided educational lessons on pollinators, drones, nutrients, composting, and marketing. Kids of all ages were even able to work together in creating their own commercials to market their potatoes, which Ms. Bobbi, my 4-H Program Assistant, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching after teaching the marketing education component.
In all, we had approximately eighty 50-lb bags and a couple thousand more pounds in bulk containers. While learning about potatoes from seed to consumer was a great purpose in this project, we also know the value of including community service. Containers of potatoes were delivered to local food banks, while 4-H club members and leaders hand-delivered to places such as the Lee Conlee House for survivors of domestic violence and to families they just knew were in need of a helping hand. The process of growing potatoes filled young minds with knowledge and a lot of bellies with potatoes. Most importantly though,Tri-County 4-H Potato Project filled hearts with compassion and helped children learn the value in simply helping their fellowman. And that, my friends, is a big part of what 4-H is all about!
For interesting information on the “Life of a Commercial Potato” watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OzRGJYk154 by our very own Putnam County Agriculture Agent.
The author is employed by UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agriculture – An Equal Opportunity Institution.