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"I love watching the plants grow": Ag programs helps future farmers in Clewiston

The Clewiston elementary’s agriculture program is not just teaching students how to garden— the school says it’s growing aspirations for ag careers
Posted at 6:13 PM, Apr 25, 2024

CLEWISTON, Fla. — In Hendry County, agriculture is in the heart of the community. Among the pastoral setting, Central Elementary stands out as the only elementary school in the county with an agriculture program - an initiative the school says is planting seeds for students’ future

Upon visiting the school, the energy is palpable. A young student’s excitement rang through the thriving vegetable garden: “There are so many good peppers there!”

Aerial view of the student-ran garden at Central Elementary in Clewiston.
Aerial view of the student-ran garden at Central Elementary in Clewiston.

This garden was brimming with healthy plants ripe with vegetables, and it’s maintained by the students themselves. Among them is 5th grader, Mia Santoya, who said, “I really love watching the plants grow time by time.”

Santoya admits she wasn’t interested in agriculture until she joined this program. Now, just like the plants she and the other kids tend to, Santoya said her love for agriculture continues to grow too. So much so, she said she wants to pursue it as a career.

Central Elementary 5th grader, Mia Santoya.
Central Elementary 5th grader, Mia Santoya.

“I want to achieve my goals in it and become an FFA,” said Santoya proudly.

“I think when kids plant a seed, they believe in tomorrow - they believe in their future. It’s the same thing as any of their dreams, so they can relate to that in their regular life,” said Jennifer Price, the program’s teacher.

Central Elementary's STEM Teacher, Jennifer Price, showing students how to tend to an eggplant plant.
Central Elementary's STEM Teacher, Jennifer Price, showing students how to tend to an eggplant plant.

This garden was a dream at one point too - Price said the field where it sits was completely empty just three years ago. But these days, students from K-5 go there eager to get their hands dirty doing work like germinating, planting, and taking care of their chickens.

“There’s no part of any of the garden they think is hard work. It doesn’t matter if it’s pulling weeds, shelling peas - they love every aspect of it,” said Price.

Central Elementary students working together to pot new plants.
Central Elementary students working together to pot new plants.

Price said she believes classes like this teach valuable lessons, and are great for the students in this county.

“They can turn around when they graduate from high school and go to work in any field - tons of opportunity for them to work in the agriculture industry,” Price explained.

Going forward, price says she has big plans to continue to expand the program.

“Hopefully we will get a greenhouse, and then hopefully in the next two years we will have the food we grow in the cafeteria,” said Price.

Group of students gathered for a group photo in their garden.
Group of students gathered for a group photo in their garden.