Dundee Ridge Middle FFA Named the 2022 Polk County Farm Bureau Program of the Year
Story and photo of Paul Catala
For Bella Dykes, it was hands-on experiences in the classroom that encouraged her to pursue her goal of becoming a veterinarian. For now, she’s focused on learning about the basics of farming, raising and caring for livestock, and experiencing first-hand the importance of Florida farming.
These principles are just a few of the lessons and goals that Agriculture Instructor and Counselor Edward “Eddie” Congdon has set out for students at the Dundee Ridge FFA chapter at Dundee Ridge Middle Academy. Besides Congdon, Kasie Herndon is also an advisor to the Dundee Ridge FFA which started at the beginning of the school year.
The program’s success in achieving these goals while instilling a sense of pride in Florida’s agriculture is just part of the reason it was awarded the 2022 Polk County Farm Bureau Program title.
Dundee Ridge was also named Program of the Year in 2002.
During a recent class, Congdon showed some students how to properly cut the nails on some school bunnies. Among those keeping a close eye is Bella, 11, a sixth-grader who raises a pig at a market in the school barn and visits the animal at least three times a week.
“This is my fourth year in competitions, and the time here really helps me with my day-to-day care,” she says. “(Congdon) teaches us a lot, and he’s a fun teacher with a lot of character and passion.”
In addition to agricultural livestock care classes, ag-animal students at Dundee Ridge can participate in after-school farming programs such as livestock and horse arbitration, tool identification, and citrus judgment. Students spend about two hours three days each week working with animals or crops.
“I teach a love of farming to students in grades six through eight. I am so proud of my students and seeing them achieve their goals,” said Congdon, 48, a lifelong Haines resident.
Congdon grew up doing housework on an 80-acre farm in Haines, where he helped raise pigs, livestock, and tend orchards.
“Since I could walk, I’ve been helping out on the farm and I realized farming would be in my blood for life,” says Congdon, who received an elementary education degree from Florida Southern College.
This love of farming and the traditional agricultural lifestyle of Florida, as well as the instructors’ accumulated years of experience in the field, helped this school stand out and gain recognition.
Polk Farm County Sheriff’s Office Executive Director Carol McKenzie says students who have already passed his classes remember the skills he taught and reinforced at Dandy Ridge. This includes lessons about the different types of animals that have been studied and bred, breeding programs, and studies on different stages of an animal’s life.
“He is well remembered and admired by previous students who say they continue to appreciate the important lessons they learned in his classroom,” says McKenzie.
“I’ve met a few of his former students, and they are always so excited to see and talk to him.”
This infectious excitement has been behind the many awards the show has won over the years. Among them: 17 of the top five government ratings for citrus fruits; 14 of the Statewide Top 10 Livestock Assessment Teams; Five of the Top 10 Poultry Evaluation Teams; and 23 of the top five display teams for ornamental growing. One of the most remarkable achievements was when the students won the state championship.
The program has earned five state titles, and in 2021, won three out of five divisions at the state ornamental horticulture demonstration at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
For 2022, Dundee Ridge has 80 FFA members. Of these, 27 market pigs exhibit at the Polk County Youth Fair and five Pioneers at the Polk County Youth Fair; 10 members offer goats for breeding; And six chickens. There are also 10 members of purebred or commercial cattle who go to the Polk County Youth Fair, the Florida State Fair, and the Central Florida Youth in Agriculture.
Congdon, who was a member of Haines City FFA Chapter when he was a sophomore in high school, says Dundee Ridge’s support for the FFA program has been fantastic.
“At the end of the year, I want my children to take love and appreciation
Agriculture,” he says. Agriculture programs are important because they teach students
Where their food comes from opens the door to many career options. It is a great honor to be recognized by the Farm Bureau. It’s exciting to see people learning about the work that went into having a great AG program.”
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