PALMETTO -- Victoria Lanza, 13, takes care of her pig Lily with all the gusto of a modern-day Fern Arable from "Charlotte's Web."
Every day, twice a day, Victoria slips on black rubber boots and visits Lily in her pen at Buffalo Creek Middle School. She feeds her, walks her, hugs her. When the sun is hot, she rubs Coppertone sunscreen on Lily's back so her pink skin doesn't get burned.
But Victoria is getting ready to say goodbye to Lily when she sells her at the Manatee County Fair in mid-January. Like most fair pigs, Lily will be slaughtered for meat.
"I'm gonna cry when I leave her," Victoria said.
On Friday, Victoria had already been at school since 9 a.m., despite the holiday break. She was back again at 1:30 in the afternoon. And she'd be back after dinner that night.
"She didn't want to do dance, she didn't want to do softball. She didn't want to do anything, but she loves this," said Eva Kelly, Victoria's mother.
Victoria enrolled in agriscience class as part of her seventh-grade curriculum at Buffalo Creek Middle and fell in love with the program. She later joined the school's Future Farmers of America chapter.
Buffalo Creek has one of the most sophisticated farm labs in the school district, and students have respond
ed very well, said agriscience teacher Greg Egan.
There are more than 200 students in Egan's agriscience class and about 130 members in the FFA chapter. Nearly 70 students will take their projects to the fair: 25 hogs, 22 rabbits, nine dairy cows, three goats and one heifer.
Students who want to do fair projects are required to buy their own animal. Victoria bought a 67-pound Lily for $160 in September.
To qualify for the fair, pigs have to weigh between 220 and 320 pounds. Victoria has been working to help Lily gain the weight. Meals consist of corn, corn oil and "show chow." When Lily's good, she gets a handful of Nilla wafers.
"I thought I would start out easy with a pig, and pigs are really cool, and she's really fun to have," said Victoria, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian.
Judges will be also evaluating Lily's walk. Victoria has been teaching Lily how to walk with her, gently whipping her on the ear to keep her in check.
"I never thought we should have a pig, and I never thought we'd enjoy it," Victoria's mother said. "But it's actually fun when we clean the poop, and it's just quiet and nobody bothers you."
"And they always look forward to seeing you," said Joseph Kelly, Victoria's stepfather.
Egan wasn't worried about Lily's progress Friday afternoon. When she stepped on the scale, Lily weighed in at 274 pounds. With two weeks left until the start of the fair Jan. 16, she still has room to gain.
"(Victoria) has done really well. She has kept record of that pig since we got her," Egan said.
Students will get to keep the money from the sale of their animals -- perhaps the only perk of parting with Lily.
"I just tell her it's the circle of life," Victoria's mother said. "This is what farmers do. They get up, they feed their animals and they sell them unfortunately. But at least she knows that Lily was well taken care of."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941)745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.