Moore Haven FFA presents stellar ‘Ag Issues’ debates

LaBELLE — The Hendry County commissioners witnessed a live debate presentation last week by the Moore Haven FFA Chapter’s “Ag Issues” team that has been practicing at a furious pace for a state competition before governmental bodies area-wide.

The Moore Haven FFA Chapter’s multimedia debate practice sessions have taken place at several public forums in the Lake Okeechobee area so far: before the Glades County School Board on Thursday, April 11; the Moore Haven City Council on Tuesday evening, April 16; the Glades County Board of Commissioners on Monday, April 22; the Hendry County Board of Commissioners the next night; a local restaurant the day after; then the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s board on Thursday, April 25; and most recently, in their seventh one so far, the Lee County Rotary Club on Sunday, April 28.

Lake Okeechobee News/Courtesy of Emily Hunter
Moore Haven FFA Chapter members (seated, from left): Bryant Williams, Kerri Hines, Rosmary Rubio, Reese Davis, Camden Rhymes and Hannah Moss. In back are Hendry County Commissioners Michael Swindle, Emma Byrd, Board Chairman Mitchell Wills, Darrell Harris and Karson Turner.

As Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner explained last Tuesday in introducing them in the Hendry County Courthouse commission chambers:
“Mr. Chair and board, thank you all so much for allowing us this opportunity. As you all know, I commonly refer to myself as a half-breed because my daddy was from Glades County, my mama was from Hendry, and we have some of our younger brothers and sisters over from Glades County tonight. Miss (Samantha) Rhymes and Mr. (Phillip) Cosby have put together a stellar group here, and they’re going to give us a little presentation. I know you’re going to get a lot out of this.”

Ms. Rhymes is an art and English teacher and Mr. Cosby an agricultural technology teacher at Moore Haven Middle High School who also advises the FFA chapter. He’s been there for nearly 20 years.

Looking for fine-tuning
Commissioner Turner said that they’d asked him beforehand for the commissioners to do a critique of their performance — and it was a debate theatrical in nature because the students were portraying the viewpoints of others — “so we’re going to have an exchange afterwards … and this is for them to qualify for a state competition.”

Ms. Rhymes introduced the Moore Haven FFA kids, who are students at MHMHS, and they took the commissioners’ seats behind the dais as she gave a little speech explaining what they’d be doing.

It’s what the state FFA folks call a Leadership Development Event, or LDE.

“The competition they’re in is actually called Ag Issues, so they take this either environmental issue or an issue in agriculture itself and they discuss this issue in the form of a debate. We decided to do ours as basically kind of a forum where they interact in different roles of people this actually affects.

“So these are the stakeholders in what is called the water quality crisis in South Florida,” Ms. Rhymes went on. “This is going to be your panel, they’re going to go over everything and they’re going to cover a lot of information. A slide show will show the points that they’ll cover as they’re speaking … from varying points of view. You do have environmental, you have cane farmers, you kind of get to see everybody’s side about the water quality.”

Performers in a mock debate
The students began with the “moderator” announcing: “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Save Our Waters Rally. This is a special event that brings together top advocates of water quality and saving the water both in the Caloosahatchee and Lake Okeechobee.

“On our panel we have Reese Davis and Kerri Hines, sugarcane farmers in the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) region; Rosemary Rubio, hotel manager on Fort Myers Beach; Camden Rhymes, a resident of Sanibel Island; Hanna Moss, an environmentalist and conservationist; and myself as the mediator, Bryant Williams, representative for the South Florida Water Management.”

Moore Haven FFA Chapter members also debated at Cafe 27 in Moore Haven.

From there they went into their various roles and conducted a debate, presenting all sides of the water quality issues that have been plaguing Florida, especially recently.

There are rigorous state FFA requirements and a protocol set out for the competition. The kids on each team are required to be ninth- through 12th-graders, active in FFA and incorporate official FFA dress, costumes, props, skits and other creative tools in their presentations.

Mr. Cosby explained: “These are all ranch-based kids that live and their families have grown up in this area, and we chose the water quality issue because of that. Not only is it going to affect their parents, but it could have a drastic effect on their future in this area, because they’re dealing with it on a daily basis.

“They have looked at all different aspects of what the problem is that’s causing it; and yesterday, they were kind of concerned (about) presenting to the Lee Rotary Club — that maybe they wouldn’t have the same view as ours. But, they commended them, not only on the fact that my students presented the agricultural side, they presented the environmentalists’ side, the business person in Lee County’s side as well. So they stepped out of their comfort zone.”

The state competition will be June 11 at the Florida FFA State Convention.

Mr. Cosby posted on April 16 after the students acted out their mini-debate before the city council: “The dedication these students have to our community and FFA Chapter is amazing. I would like to thank Samantha Rhymes for leading this group of members on this new CDE (Career Development Education) this year. With the support of these FFA members’ parents and our community leaders, they will become stronger in the presentation.”

The member students, their parents and family members and supporters all were getting ready to celebrate their successes on Tuesday night, April 30, in their FFA Annual Banquet, 6 p.m. at the Doyle Conner Building in Moore Haven.

A post on their Facebook page, “Moore Haven FFA Chapter,” said on the evening of April 22 after one of their presentations: “This group of FFA members amaze me every time they present their Ag Issues Forum. Tonight they presented to a full house at the Glades County commissioners meeting. I would like to thank the parents of these young people for supporting not only these members but myself and the Moore Haven FFA Chapter.”

Glades County Property Appraiser Lorie Ward and Supervisor of Elections Aletris Farnam attended their session at Cafe 27 in Moore Haven on Wednesday, April 24.

“They’ve been doing a really good job with these, and I wish them well,” Ms. Farnam said of the presentations.

Ms. Ward posted a Facebook comment saying: “You all did an awesome job, and your many hours of preparation will pay off at your competition. I love the way you represented the different views on this issue and were very knowledgeable on each. Mr Cosby should be very proud of you all. I know I am.”

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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