Cedar Key FFA recognized nationally

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Cedar Key School may be the smallest in the state, but it's got one of the best FFA programs in the country.
In July, a film crew from Farm Journal TV came to the school to document part of what it is that makes the program and its participants so special.
"They came in and were really intrigued with what we were doing," said 16-year-old senior chapter FFA president Lauren Bartholemy about a project called FFA Food for All.
The school was one of just five in the nation to have its efforts documented by the Farmers Feeding the World campaign in a program that airs on RFDTV Thanksgiving. The program highlights the efforts of those striving to feed the needy.
"Our ultimate goal is to give back to the community," Bartholemy said, and that's accomplished through educational programs and by providing food to the local food pantry.
One facet of the project was aimed at teaching younger students how to take care of their own gardens. FFA members showed the younger children how to grow zipper peas in geometrically shaped gardens, designed to teach how area and volume relate to agriculture.
"Many have gone home and built their own gardens," said 15-year-old FFA member Taryn Epperson.
Another facet of the program seeks to teach people about the advantages of small-scale aquaculture that can be done at home. Bartholemy said FFA members do this through the use of the the school's closed loop recirculating aquaculture system. Students are currently raising tilapia and koi fish in the system, she said. About 160 tilapia, all raised at the school,  were donated to hungry families last year. And that doesn't include the bushels of zipper peas grown, fish from fishing trips led by FFA teacher Denny Voyles or the pig raised by Epperson last year that helped feed 36 families.
"It's important for people to know this can be done on a small scale," Bartholemy said.
And the need continues to grow, according to the students.
Epperson said that over the summer, the 41 families that regularly visit the food pantry grew to 47.
"The need has really gone up over the summer," she said. "We can hope that it won't get worse. It could get better, but it's always 50/50."
Bartholemy said it's shocking to know there are that may families in a community of only 800 people that need help just to feed themselves. With each visit to the food pantry, she said, she notices that the shelves become more and more bare.
Both Bartholemy and Epperson said their involvement with FFA and the Food for All program has opened their eyes to how people can make a difference in their communities.
"As FFA, we're helping to fill the gap created in modern times," Bartholemy said.
Both plan to go into agriculture-related fields later in life.
Voyles said in his 36 years teaching, he's never seen his students praised in such fashion.
"It was an honor to have my students highlighted," he said, explaining that the project that garnered the school the attention started last year in an attempt to qualify for a $2,500 grant. The school got the money, but Voyles said he wasn't expecting to also be featured in the TV program.
"We got picked because we're really unique," he said. "We're the smallest school in Florida. We have no resources ... but we're making things happen."