MANATEE -- Moments before the start of Saturday's second annual Palmetto High School and Lincoln Middle School FFA Alumni Fashion Show, Reagan Hinkle shed tears of happiness.
An announcement was made at Tractor Supply Co. on State Road 64 that Reagan, 17, a Palmetto High School senior, was to receive an FFA jacket through money raised by two of her Palmetto classmates, junior Kathy Jo Cole, 16, and senior Tiffany Bunch, 18, fellow FFA'ers.
Kathy Jo and Tiffany had earlier this year realized that not every Palmetto High student can afford the official blue corduroy FFA jackets with "Palmetto, Florida" on the back, which cost $50 to $75, so they created their own business called "Bow Lyfee" .
The students' business is about making and selling colorful hair bows in order to provide needy fellow students with jackets.
The pair have raised more than $300 selling small handmade bows for $1, medium bows for $2 and large bows for $3 to hundreds of students and non-students, the two said.
Reagan cried and hugged her classmates after she was named the third Palmetto High recipient of a jacket this year, after senior Raymond Laffler and sophomore Ryan McRee.
The thoughtfulness of the creators of Bow Lyfee, who pay for the bow material and glue gun they use out of their own pockets, set the tone for the fashion show, which is about raising money for the FFA programs and scholarships and to let the community meet FFA students, many of whom do positive projects in the community. FFA was formerly an acronym for Future Farmers of America, but now it stands alone.
Nearly all the students in the fashion show are also busy raising animals and growing plants for Manatee County Fair, which starts Jan. 16.
"It's a great way to showcase the kids and what they do," said Diane Lang, a parent volunteer from the Lincoln Middle FFA. "It's also a chance for people to see them outside of the pigpen."
A total of 20 students modeled the "spring line" of Tractor Supply Co. clothes on a flat bed truck at the store Saturday while a crowd of about 175 cheered them on while dining on barbecue for an $8 donation, said Julie Tillett, the Palmetto High FFA Advisor and event organizer.
Besides being clad in the
latest in "camo," the students also carried the tools of the agricultural trade onto the "runway," including feed scoops and buckets, ropes and whips.
Unlike most fashion shows, where models cloak their personalities on the runway, the FFA models were told to be themselves and have fun, Tillett said.
"This is 'country runway,' " said proud FFA parents Scott Whitaker and Tim Lewis, who were hoping to top last year's roughly $2,000 in donations.
The funds will be split between Palmetto High and Lincoln Middle, said Whitaker, Lincoln's FFA Alumni President.
Student Elizabeth Atkinson hit the runway in rubber camouflage boots that were a bit big on her and had a rope slung on her shoulder as she delivered a big cowgirl grin at the crowd.
"I didn't trip walking up the stairs," a smiling Elizabeth said when asked her best memory of the experience.
Tori Quinn wore a Bow Lyfee bow in her hair.
Hannah Whitaker, 14, a Palmetto High freshman FFA'er from Parrish whose dad is Scott Whitaker of Lincoln FFA, sported a halter on the runway and a big smile.
"I just waved to everyone," said Hannah, who wakes up at 4:45 a.m. every day to feed her 1,250-pound steer, Eli, so it is ready for the Manatee County Fair.
Hannah catches her school bus at 6:10 a.m. and gets to Palmetto High around 7 a.m.
"My friends who are not in FFA ask me why I am not tired," Hannah said. "I tell them that I'm used to it. I would like to sleep in sometimes, but Eli has to be fed. He depends on me."
Michael Ingram, a Palmetto High agriculture teacher, and Ronnie King, the principal of Lincoln Middle, served as announcers and emcees for the event.
"The kids were a bit shy at first but they would come off the stage saying, 'I was in a fashion show!' " said Kim Chamness, assistant manager of Tractor Supply.
Sophomores Caleb Summeralls, 16, and Jerry Miller, 16, were the only two high school boy models.
"I was proud to support Palmetto," Miller said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072, or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.