THE DISTRICT VIII 4-H CITRUS TREE PROJECT – HOW SWEET IT IS!
Do you know the difference between a Hamlin and a Parson Brown? If you were asked, ‘What is Huanglongbing?’ would you respond, ‘Is that a city in China?’ But ask those questions to 4-H’ers in the Citrus Project and they will immediately answer you. Beginning in October, both Hamlin and Parson Brown oranges are harvested. Of the two, Hamlins are considered seedless, whereas history provides quite a tale about Parson Browns. Youth will go on to say that Huanglongbing is known here as citrus greening. It is a bacterial disease spread by the Asian citrus psyllid and it is devastating the industry.
WHY IS THERE A CITRUS PROJECT?
Retired County Extension Agent for Fruit Crops, John Jackson, started the project in the mid-1990s. “Our plan for Central Florida was to develop a project that had several goals. The first was to offer a project that had a financial incentivize for the youth. We wanted to reward them financially for spending the time to grow a quality tree. In addition we wanted to expose youth to the citrus industry. Many future community leaders participate in 4-H and if we can expose these individuals to citrus at an early age it would be of great benefit to the industry. Another critical goal of the project was for the participants to have fun. This seems fairly simple, but we wanted the project to be a family endeavor with the youth fully engaged. We wanted them to enjoy seeing their efforts result in a living organism grow and flourish.”
WHAT DO THE YOUTH GAIN?
Hundreds of 4-H’ers from all over the central Florida area have participated in the project. Youth investigate technological advances, such as FAWN, the Florida Automated Weather Network. Furthermore, 4-H’ers handle diseases, pests and nutritional deficiencies. Who would have thought that learning about root-stocks, scions and Florida history could be so much fun?
Hunter Bronson is sixteen years old, from Osceola County, and has participated in the project for eleven years: “The Citrus Project is important because the project offers a hands on experience for youth to grow citrus. My goal for the citrus project is to develop my knowledge of how to grow citrus and challenges that I have faced have included disease and climate issues.”
Growing a Persian Lime was the first citrus project for Seminole County Junior 4-H’er Leif Perri: “I learned about diseases for citrus trees. I also learned that each tree has a specific name. It is important to offer the citrus project to help kids learn about citrus diseases so that when they grow up and own their own grove they can take care of it. I have learned how to fertilize, transplant and take care of my tree.”
HOW IS THE PROJECT ADMINISTERED?
Each spring, families order one to two trees. Varieties change from year to year. Grapefruit might be grown one year and a tangerine or lemon the next. On Pick-Up Day, youth receive their trees and five gallon pots. Excited youth watch a demonstration on how to properly pot their trees. During the year-long project, “check-up days” and field trips to groves are scheduled. In addition, an amazing educational program is held at the Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC). A Facebook page was created to provide educational materials, display photos, and share the latest news.
Besides growing a tree, youth complete Record Books and special projects. Projects may
include teaching workshops, creating an electronic poster, or conducting research. In January, their record books and project are submitted, they have their trees judged, and they complete a knowledge test. Blue ribbon trees go on to the auction. Between January and March, the exhibitors must secure a buyer for their tree.
At the March Auction and Awards Ceremony, healthy trees arrive in decorated wagons with 4-H’ers ready to answer tough questions from the judges. Trees are placed and awards are given to the 4-H’ers. In addition, two special awards are announced: the John Jackson Scholarship and the Jim Yates Horticulturist Award. The Horticulturist Award is given to the youth with the highest record book and knowledge test scores in memory of Jim Yates, a longtime resident and
grower from Osceola County. After the awards are distributed, the auction begins! Buyers and proxy bidders drive up the prices much to the entertainment of the audience. Buyers have the very real satisfaction of supporting youth involved in a wonderful project.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF THE PROJECT?
Gaining knowledge, having an economic impact, and behavior change are ways Extension professionals measure the success of programming. With many years behind it, the District VIII Citrus Project is well-established and has proven its value. For example, an average year has tree sales over $2,000. Moreover, youth practice environmentally safe ways to provide care for their trees. As with any project, not everyone completes it. Interest can wane, goats and caterpillars love to eat trees, and people forget to bring trees in during freezes. In the future, some of these 4-H’ers may pursue a career in science. Back in 1998, Jamie Yates had the Grand Champion Red Navel. Presently, Jamie Yates-Burrow serves as the Extension Program Manager at the CREC. Without doubt, the 4-H’ers certainly have an increased appreciation for Florida’s fabulous farmers.
To summarize, “A citrus grower may work hard to produce a crop but lose the trees to a serious disease such as greening. Not all of life’s lessons are easy to deal with. Just ask a citrus grower about the challenges of growing citrus. Hopefully over the years many 4-H citrus horticulturists have experienced the excitement of growing, showing and selling their tree. Hopefully they have learned a great deal about the citrus industry and the role it plays in the Florida economy.” ~ John Jackson