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Ag Venture offers glimpse at county's real growth industry

PALMETTO -- Did you know that 26,200 oranges in a straight line make a mile?

Or that beef fat is used to make toothpaste?

Or that Manatee County produces more than 70 percent of all fresh market tomatoes grown in the U.S.?

Logan Wendell found that out.

So did Marissa Jacquinto and Jonathan Klepper.

They were among the nearly 1,200 Manatee County School District third-graders who spent Friday at Ag Venture 2011, part of Farm City Week at the Manatee County Fairgrounds.

Students and teachers rotated between stations at Mosaic Arena manned by 4-H leaders, Manatee County Extension staffers and agriculture professionals.

They learned about aquaculture, beef, citrus, dairy, plants, soils, vegetables and much more.

Like roping a make-believe steer.

“It’s harder than it looks on TV,” Logan said.

Or where milk comes from.

“I learned that only female cows that have babies can produce milk,” Marissa said.

Or recognizing different vegetables.

“I never knew what an eggplant looked like,” Jonathan said. “Now I do.”

Taking it all in was Trish Litton, a secondary vocational program specialist.

“This gives them a real hands-on opportunity to see and link what agriculture really does,” she said. “They’ve never made butter. They think lettuce comes from Publix. They don’t know what bees do. They think bees just sting them. Then we show them and they go, ‘Wow!’ ”

Gene Glassburn joked about getting a different reaction when he told his audience beef fat is used to make toothpaste.

“Some kids go, ‘Yuk!’ ” the 4-H volunteer and rancher said. “They’re seeing how much the industry does and what we do. It’s not just butchering meat. We don’t throw anything away. We grind up bone for feed, take beef fat to make shampoo. Perfume’s got it, too.”

Teachers learn things, as well.

Like Mills Elementary’s Amy Heflin, who grew up in Bradenton.

“All I knew was about the beaches. I didn’t know what went on north of the river, but what these people do helps the community run,” she said. “This event is a big deal.”

Nearby Robin Bryant, an agricultural consultant, was doing show-and-tell with different vegetables and engaged in some humorous give-and-take with students.

“You like green beans?” she asked.

“Yes!” they answered.

“Do you eat green beans?

“No!” some replied.

Bryant gave each of them a pepper seedling to grow at home.

“For a lot of them, this is their first exposure to anything agricultural,” she said. “They need to know what they see at the grocery store starts from seeds and plants. Their food doesn’t come from a Styrofoam tray.”

Not all fish come from the sea, either.

Carlos Martinez was high-fiving students who answered his questions about farm-raised fish like tilapia.

“I’ve been doing this 10 to 15 years and when I ask kids the past four to five years, ‘Who eats tilapia?’ the majority are raising their hands,” said the University of Florida aquaculture extension specialist. “Whereas six to eight to 10 years ago, it was just teachers and very few of them at that.

“They may not know their aquaculture, but they eat it.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.