At the Orlando Convention Center, multiple towers of greens grow vertically; the fresh produce is served in the center’s restaurants. Mature basil is shown. Lake County teacher Jacqueline Holmes uses eight tower gardens such as these to teach her students. The produce they grow is used in the salad bar in their Triangle Elementary School cafeteria. / Courtesy Orlando Convention Center

Submitted by Florida Agriculture in the Classroom

A third-grade teacher from Lake County; a high school teacher who teaches horticulture, diversified career technology, animal science and agriculture from Bradford County; and a middle school agriscience teacher from Volusia County have each won a Florida Agriculture in the Classroom (FAITC) Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award for 2018.


Jacqueline Holmes is one of three Florida educators who have won the 2018 Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award. She is the overall Florida winner. / Contributed

The Gainesville-based nonprofit organization Florida Agriculture in the Classroom selected the  educators from a field of candidates because the three best exemplified teachers who use agriculture in their instruction.

Next level of competition is national

“We are excited that our Florida teachers will be recognized at the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference. Our grants committee selected these educators because they are passionate about Florida agriculture and share that passion with their students,” said Carol Roe, chairwoman of the FAITC board of directors.

Jacqueline Holmes, a third-grade teacher at Triangle Elementary School in Mount Dora, won the award for the elementary level and is the overall Florida winner. She will compete for the National Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award for 2018.

She will join two other award winners from Florida: middle school agriscience winner Amanda Ellis, of Silver Sands Middle School in DeLand in Volusia County; and high school winner Kaitlin Van Heusen of Bradford Union Technical Center in Starke in Bradford County.

All three winners will be recognized at the 2018 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference, “On Land and Sea,” set for June 26-29 in Portland, Maine.

Students grow real crops

Jacqueline uses a school garden to teach her students science, reading, writing, math and engineering. Her students now have eight tower gardens they use to grow produce for the salad bar in the cafeteria.

Sales of the “Ag Tag” specialty license plate fund programs such as the Florida Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Awards. / Contributed

Jacqueline’s school garden project was such a success during the 2016-17 academic year that Lake County schools received a grant to start gardens at 30 other schools in the district. Her students chart the growth of plants in their journals, calculate fertilizer amounts and evaporation rates, experiment with new seeds such as loofa, recycle cafeteria waste by using milk containers to start seeds and to compost leftover fruits and vegetables, and more.

Teaching important basics

Amanda Ellis’ students start in sixth grade — learning the basics of agriculture and its importance in our world. She discusses daily nutritional needs for students, and talks about the availability of food and why food in America is safe and cheap when compared with that of other countries. Amanda believes her students leave her class with a better understanding of how much work goes into producing the food they enjoy on a daily basis.

Kaitlin Van Heusen teaches many subject areas that allow her to teach her students about such topics as plants, animals, careers and healthful lifestyles. Her students leave her class with a better understanding of how agriculture functions and the important role it plays in society. Kaitlin feels that agriculture literacy is something that every student needs.

Florida Agriculture in the Classroom funds programs like the Florida Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Awards with proceeds from sales of the Agriculture specialty license plate known as the “Ag Tag.” FAITC’s mission is to increase agricultural literacy through K-12 education, and it does so by providing curriculums, workshops, farm tours, awards programs, grants, and the elementary reading program Florida Agriculture Literacy Day.

For more information about Florida Agriculture in the Classroom, visit faitc.org or email [email protected] For information about the “Ag Tag” license plate, visit www.AgTag.org.