Students took the party to the streets during the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association’s (FNGLA) 2015 Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE) in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. in January. During the annual TPIE Happy Hour on the first night of the show, students from McArthur High School in Hollywood, Fla., provided entertainment in the form of flash mob dancing and singing, getting the crowd pumped up and raising the already high spirits and energy of TPIE attendees.
The students got their start at TPIE in January 2014. Sponsor Suntory Flowers and partner Sun-Fire Nurseries were looking for local students to pull off a flash mob, and after calling around to several schools, got in touch with the FFA Director Vince Newman at McArthur High School. That was in October 2013, and after the students performed their first flash mob at TPIE 2014, T. Jay Higgins, owner of Sun-Fire Nurseries, visited the school to learn more about the program. At the time, the program already had a small shade house and some ground cover area, but no covered space.
Higgins, who also owns greenhouse manufacturing company Treynian Coverings, measured a space, got approval from the school board and built a greenhouse for the program, donating all of the materials, and installing the greenhouse at no charge to the program or the school.
Today, the McArthur FFA Program grows tropicals, palms, succulents and any plant that’s donated. With interest in aquaculture, the students are in the process of adding a fish tank in the greenhouse.
“It was really the excitement of the students and teacher that made me want to do more for the kids and the school,” Higgins says.
Originally, Suntory Flowers and Sun-Fire Nurseries donated $2,500 to McArthur FFA for the flash mob entertainment in 2014, provided buses to and from the show, and hosted a pizza party upon their return to the school.
“This just turned into me asking them what they need,” Higgins says. “The kids worked hard on the flash mob and took pride in their work. It made it easy to want to help them.”
None of this would be possible without the commitment and determination of the program’s leader and teacher, Higgins says. That applies to both FFA Director Vince Newman, as well as Ingrid Clarke, the school’s dance instructor, who leads students to competitions around the state, where their performances have won several awards and accolades.
“The most important factor is having someone like Vince who will go above and beyond to help the kids,” he says. “He even brought the kids on a field trip to Sun-Fire last year, which is about a 3 1/2-hour drive. We can provide materials and money, but that is the easy part. Vince is there every day, implementing ideas and guiding the kids.”
The industry has a responsibility to cultivate an interest in our products lifestyle in young people, and support local agriculture education efforts, Higgins says.
“I would encourage not only growers, but everyone to see how they can help local FFA and 4-H programs. We are never going to be able to grow plants on our smart phones or iPads, but unfortunately, more kids will pick those up before a shovel. There are plenty of kids interested in the shovel, but it is up to us to guide them and show them the benefits of plants and the industry as a whole.”