For the past 68 years the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition has brought fun amusement park rides, funnel cakes and magic shows to South Florida. But it's more than just fun; organizers also want to educate kids on the agriculture industry. This year's fair, which has been going since March 14, is training the future generation of farmers.
An estimated $104 billion is generated annually from agriculture in Florida. It is a key part of Florida’s economy, but nationwide, the agriculture industry is aging out. The average age of farmers is now 58-years-old.
“The heartbeat of the fair is what we do for the kids,” says Eddie Cora, president of the Maimi-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition. "The fair offers training programs for students about the agriculture industry with some of its leading experts."
Cora joined Sundial to talk about what the fair teaches students about the region's agriculture industry.
WLRN: When you think about fairs you think about the rides and all the kinds of food, but there is something unique about this fair... it puts the focus on educating kids students on the agriculture industry. How do you do that at this fair? How do you mix the fun with the education?
Cora: We're an agricultural fair in an urban setting. So we look at this in two ways. Number one, we want to teach students of this community that milk doesn’t come from Publix and salad does not come from Panera. What we try to do with our agriculture program is provide the students from the school systems the opportunity to get into an agri-business project and teach them agriculture from a business side. Somebody's got to take over the family farm. Somebody's got to take over the family business.
Why take it that far?
The understanding needs to come from a very early age because it's like any business owner, it doesn't matter whether you own a nail salon a 7-Eleven or a farm, you still have to understand the business side of it. It's an opportunity for the fair to get involved and help these kids learn the business side without losing their own money. In our agriculture we have two parts -- we have the horticulture and the agriculture and we partner with Miami-Dade Public Schools. Specifically what we do with [the kids] is [teach] them the animal production business. At the end of the day there is a food chain that keeps going and there's somebody that's providing the animals and the meat for these vendors. These kids are learning how to not only buy the animal from the sense of the selection process, but they're learning the cost of the animal and the cost of the feed. They learn very quickly you can overfeed an animal to be unhealthy.
And you also bring in experts from the agriculture industry to talk with the students and teach them about what that industry really is and what it does.
We try to partner with the state of Florida and experts in the industry to come down and teach the students how to properly care for their animal... and what you can do along the way of raising your animal to avoid unnecessary vet costs and raise a healthy animal. They're learning how to raise a healthy animal for production or for personal gain ... through keeping logs.
How many young people have you heard tell you 'all of a sudden I'm kind of interested in the industry'?
That's the most gratifying part. The heartbeat of the fair is what we do with the kids. The reason we put on the fair is so that we can raise money to give back to these kids for these programs. You start talking to these kids during and you see they start understanding 'maybe this is my future and I can take over my parent's business' or 'maybe I can start my own farm.' We have success stories where there are people right now working for the state of Florida in the inspection process for the Department of Agriculture that came through our program. They're mentors now for those kids.