- January 3, 2023
Brooke Sollie, a fifth grader at Myakka City Elementary School, watched as her pig, Clementine, ran away from her.
Sollie was letting Clementine roam around the school’s new barn before class began Oct. 11 while fourth grader Layla Lockhart and her sister, Grace Lockhart, who is in fifth grade, fed two chickens.
The new barn and animals are part of Myakka City Elementary School’s new agriculture science program, which is the first at the elementary level in Manatee County.
With Myakka City Elementary School being in a rural community, Principal Carol Ricks wanted a program that would teach students about agriculture.
“I’m hoping the kids are excited about the program,” said Temple Bunyak, the leader of the agriculture science program. “I’m hoping it gives them an opportunity to learn and grow. Then they can realize that it might be something they’re interested in and they can get involved in middle and high school.”
Much like students would go to art, music or gym class, students in kindergarten through fifth grade go to an agriculture science class in which Bunyak teaches them about animal sciences, agricultural leadership and careers, agricultural history and more.
Students in third through fifth grade also have lab time where they work in the barn and the garden. In the labs, students will get to have hands-on opportunities to learn about different topics such as different types of soil and life cycles of plants and animals.
“A lot of even rural kids don’t realize that agriculture is a big part of what our nation is about as far as the history and also about where our food comes from,” Bunyak said.
Sollie said it’s amazing to have a barn on campus and has enjoyed
going through the ups and downs of having to care for a pig on campus and prepare it for the Manatee County Fair.
Bunyak hopes the program will inspire students to be members of middle and high school Future Farmers of America chapters. In East County, Carlos E. Haile and R. Dan Nolan middle schools and Braden River and Lakewood Ranch high schools all have FFA programs.
The school has its own 4-H Club called Myakka Ag-ventures. The school also has a Gardening and Livestock Club. Students in 4-H will show two pigs and two chickens at the Manatee County Fair in January.
Bryson Ruth, a fifth grader, had never worked with a pig before being put in charge of the Myakka Ag-venture’s chapter pig, Wilbur.
“It’s fun to learn how to take care of him and the chickens,” Ruth said.
He spent the morning cleaning Wilbur’s stall, feeding him and taking him for a walk.
Grace Lockhart, who will show a chicken at the Manatee County Fair, spent time before school Oct. 11 getting a chicken used to being handled. She said when she first started interacting with the chicken, it refused to eat meal worms out of her hand, but that day she watched in amazement as the chicken gobbled worms from her hand.
Layla Lockhart is looking forward to her chicken growing as she prepares for the fair. She was excited to have a barn on campus because she loves working with animals, especially chickens because she has chickens at home. Through the school’s agriculture science program, she’s learned more about taking care of one.
Students have to apply to be in the Gardening and Livestock Club because there is so much interest in the club. Club members meet before school to work on projects, feed the chickens, collect eggs and work in the garden.
As part of the program, Bunyak has 100 EarthBoxes to learn about gardening and grow produce for teachers and staff. Students currently are working planting fall vegetables.
The school also has hydroponic stackers in the courtyard that grow various vegetables and herbs.
Bunyak would like to see the program expand to include more swine projects for students and possibly have a calf stay at the barn for a short period of time to give students the experience of working with a calf. Bunyak also wants to have students help with breeding chickens.
“I hope we can expand and have more schools become involved because I think it’s a great program,” Bunyak said. “It’s neat to see the kids so excited about this kind of stuff.”