SAINT JOHNS COUNTY – This past year, St. Johns County 4-H families had the opportunity to engage in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) learning activities as they planted, observed growth, and harvested sugarcane at the Hastings Agriculture Extension Center. A grant from the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners provided funding for this agricultural learning experience.
In November 2017, a plot of 10, ninety foot rows of sugarcane were planted by the Hastings staff and 4-H youth. Six rows were two types of chewing cane and three rows were syrup cane acquired from the UF/IFAS Research Center in Quincy. One row was wild cane found at the Hastings Center. This planting field day provided an opportunity for youth to learn about sugarcane varieties, plant spacing, irrigation, fertilizer needs, insect scouting and agricultural careers associated with the Hastings Center. Youth were encouraged to visit the sugarcane plot over the next 12 months to observe growth and scout for pests. Throughout the growing process, three levels of nitrogen were added to each variety of cane which would be evaluated upon harvest.
In November 2018, youth returned to harvest the cane and to help evaluate which amount of nitrogen was most beneficial. Youth assisted the UF/IFAS Extension Hastings Center’s staff with cutting ten foot sections from each row and weighing the cane to determine which amount of nitrogen provided the highest yield for cane production. Results showed that for each variety, the 250 pounds of nitrogen added to the acre remarkably provided the highest yield, compared to 0 pounds or 150 pounds per acre. Other educational stations at the harvest day were taught by UF/IFAS Extension Agents and 4-H volunteers included plant anatomy and use of refractometers to examine sugar content, pressing cane, tasting cane syrup, learning about Florida’s sugarcane industry and making craft creations. At the end of the event, youth were encouraged to harvest cane to take home and plant as a 4-H project.
Kelvin said “The activities were fun. The best parts to me were putting the sugarcane through that machine and bringing some of the sugar cane home.”
Anthony enjoyed ” tasting the sugarcane syrup” and learned ” how to plant and harvest the sugarcane correctly.”
Another youth stated “I like the sugarcane field because we got a chance to taste the sugarcane and it was so good and see what the juice looked like after it was pushed through that machine.”
Jakayla was reminded how important it is to wear gloves when working with the cane, she said ” I didn’t like it when I picked up a piece of the sugarcane and those little pointy things got in my fingers. My best part was when I ate a waffle with syrup made from the juice of the sugarcane and bringing some of it (sugarcane) home.”
The 4-H Sugarcane Project is an example of 4-H’s learn-by-doing approach to science education. Youth participating in this experiential activity were able to use critical thinking skills by observing the plant growth and drawing conclusions on the results. Life skills such as critical thinking are developed through 4-H’s evidenced-based university curriculum used in projects like this one or in clubs where the experience includes regular monthly meetings focusing on specific project areas. These areas include plant science, animal science, environmental science, communication, healthy living and leadership.
Interested in learning more about the St. Johns County 4-H Program or 4-H volunteering opportunities, please contact the 4-H Office at the St. Johns County Extension Office (3125 Agricultural Center Drive, St. Augustine, 32092) at 904 209-0430. To find out more about the St. Johns County 4-H Program or to enroll, go to: http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/stjohns/4-h-youth-development
4-H and all programs and related activities sponsored for, or assisted by, St. Johns County/University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are open to all persons with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations.
4-H is a community of young people across America learning leadership, citizenship and life skills. As one of our nation’s oldest, yet most current organizations, 4-H is reaching millions of young people with positive youth development opportunities.