By Kathy L. Collins
In the center of Brandon, students from McLane Middle School learn about agriculture. Fella Stewart, who got into teaching after serving 20 years in the U.S. Marines, teaches three levels of agriculture to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students.
Many of the students who attend McLane Middle School come from areas outside of Brandon, and the school has not always received the best news coverage. But what the community needs to know is that the students in Stewart’s classes are learning how to grow the food that is necessary to feed the community.
According to Stewart, “I instruct them and then they are able to demonstrate various methods or practices of conservation and agricultural management practices that conserve natural resources. They are able to identify major ecosystems in Florida and discuss the importance of ecosystems to agriculture, and society. Students research information on how to protect, conserve, and best use our water resources by reading news/magazines articles, interpret graphs, and then select the best methods conservation. I require my students to write an essay based upon their research information.”
The students have planted collard greens, cabbage, okra, black-eyed peas, lettuce, squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, purple and white potatoes, peanuts, and sunflowers (which are used to measure growth).
“Students to love to plant peanuts, black-eyed peas and sweet potatoes because of what Dr. George Washington Carver taught about how they replenish the soil with nutrients. It’s one of their favorite topics of discussion,” explained Stewart.
The crops that are harvested are given to a food bank in Tampa and most recently approximately190 pounds of collard greens and cabbage was given to ECHO of Brandon.
In addition to crops, Stewart uses chickens to instruct students on how to properly handle, care for and maintain production animals.
“I selected chickens because I feel that they are easy to care for and are mild mannered in behavior. The children readily work with them without fear of being bitten or hurt,” explained Stewart.
Stewart said, “I teach awesome students. Having the students grow food and then supply it to two communities (Tampa and now Brandon) helps home the importance of the FFA Motto: Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve. I stress the serve part because we are a community and by growing food and sharing it we feed families,” said Stewart.