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CCFB News» August 2023

Planting Seeds

08/04/2023 @ 8:30 am | By Katrina Milton, Director of Ag Literacy

In June, I traveled to Orlando, Florida for the National Ag in the Classroom Conference. The conference, held June 27-29, featured workshops and classes, guest speakers, a bingo fundraiser, and a traveling workshop.


I thought that the traveling workshop was the highlight of the conference because I was able to travel to a citrus farm and learn how they use Citrus Under Protective Screen (C.U.P.S.). The C.U.P.S. protect growing citrus trees from sap-sucking insects. The insects, especially psyllids, infect plants with citrus greening disease, which is a bacteria that causes fruit to have a stunted growth and remain green and unripe. The bacteria has no known cure.


Just like how Floridians protect their pools and sitting areas from insects with large screened-in patios, the C.U.P.S. protect growing citrus trees from the psyllids. The large rectangular-room shaped screens allow in sunlight and water, but not bugs. The C.U.P.S. seem to be working – the grapefruit trees I saw were 13 months old and were the size of 3-year-old trees, most already bearing fruit. The citrus farm is already planning to build more C.U.P.S. in the future.


In addition to learning all about Florida agriculture and how to bring those topics back into Cook County classrooms, I was able to spend time with Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) staff and IAITC 2023 Teacher of the Year Eva Manzke.


Eva, who has been an elementary school teacher for 30 years, teaches at Walker Elementary School in Bedford Park where she integrates agriculture across the curriculum. She started the afterschool program B.A.M., the first of program of its kind in her school district. B.A.M. combines body movement in physical exercise, agriculture, and mental wellness and well-being.  


After attending the three-day national conference together, Eva and I decided to extend our stay in Orlando and enjoy a few days of vacation. Although we did find the time to relax by the pool, we couldn’t stay away from agriculture for long! We visited Disney’s EPCOT and went “Behind the Seeds” on a tour of the fish farm and four greenhouses that make up the theme park’s The Land Pavilion. The pavilion supplies shrimp, tilapia, produce, and greens for Disney restaurants, as well as food for animals in Animal Kingdom. The tour showed hydroponics (growing using water), aeroponics (growing using water vapor), aquaculture (fish and aquatic species farming), and aquaponics (growing using a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture), as well as real-life applications of modern variations of agriculture.


As with the conference, I thought the tour and its hands-on agricultural experience was the highlight of the day. At EPCOT, we were not only able to travel “around the world” by having gelato in Italy, green tea in Japan, and Kvæfjordkake (also known as “Verdens beste kake,” or “world’s best cake” in Norwegian), we were able to experience the future of agriculture and its impact on the world. The day ended with a celebratory firework show and the bittersweet knowledge that our vacation was coming to an end.


For me, my trip to Florida epitomized the best of summer: a little bit of work, a little bit of leisure, travel, time spent in the sun relaxing, a new friend, and agriculture. I can’t wait to see what the remainder of the summer will bring!





Left: Katrina holds a fluted pumpkin and poses next to a hidden Mickey Mouse topiary pepper plant with IAITC Teacher of the Year Eva Manzke. The plant is the oldest plant in EPCOT’s greenhouse, more than 40 years old.


Right: Plants grow in vertical pots at EPCOT’s The Land Pavilion.


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