FORT LONESOME: Agriculture is more than livestock and planting

Published on: September 13, 2018

Ag education opens doors for Fort Lonesome teen

Jake Fitzpatrick elected Florida FFA Area V State Vice President

By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON

STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON PHOTOS
Jacob “Jake” Fitzpatrick sees agriculture as more than raising livestock or tilling the earth. The possibilities are endless, and this Florida FFA Area V State Vice President aims to explore many aspects of it.

“How Ya Gonna Keep ’Em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Paree?”

This was a popular song from about 100 years ago referring to the once-naive American soldiers returning home to the states after a European overseas in World War I.

This also reflects the mood of modern-day culture, which is not so much tantalized by Paris but by the content of social media.

Farming, agriculture, the country life are not seen as a very exciting, romantic lifestyle. Thus, many young people are wooed and swayed by today’s bells and whistles from superficial popular culture, if not their own perspectives, on urban versus rural life.

That’s where the Future Farmers of America and Jacob “Jake” Fitzpatrick come in.

Fitzpatrick and the FFA both belie the notion of the hayseed hick with dirt under the fingernails and a trowel in the knapsack.

The FFA through its educational programs in schools, and Fitzpartrick through his participation as a FFA member and leader in Hillsborough County, and indeed Florida, embody and exemplify the principles of the FFA, which were articulated in the founding of the organization in the decade following World War I. Symbolized by the iconic corduroy jackets in “national blue and corn gold,” the FFA continues its mission of preparing future generations for the challenges of feeding a growing population. This mission includes shattering the stereotype of the farm boy, and farm girl, in order to show that agriculture is more than planting and harvesting. Agriculture and agriculture education is a science, a business, an art.

The FFA, over the years, has learned to think and to act out-of-the-box, thus attracting and developing thousands of individuals nationwide similar to Fitzpatrick, a 2017 graduate of Newsome High School in Lithia.

“We are still the FFA, the Future Farmers of America,” said Fitzpatrick. “But we are also the future biologists, the future chemists, the future veterinarians, the future engineers and the future entrepreneurs of America.”

Fitzpatrick, 18, graduated from Newsome last spring. Instead of immediately heading off to college or to the military or to that first job, Fitzpatrick has taken a different route in what he calls a “gap year,” before he begins life as a college student.

Jake is the son of Jerri and Scott Fitzpatrick. Scott is a well-known attorney in the Ruskin-Sun City Center area and Jerri is a paralegal.

Fitzpatrick is deeply engaged in his 12-month work as the Florida FFA Area V State Vice President, an elected post that entails traveling throughout Florida, the U.S. and internationally “fostering advances in leadership and the mission of the FFA.”

When Fitzpatrick is not on the road, he lives in a rural area of Fort Lonesome, in southeastern Hillsborough County, with his parents, Scott and Jerri Fitzpatrick, brothers Cade, 16, and Max, 11, where they help tend the cattle and sugar cane. His father, Scott, is a real estate attorney in Sun City Center where Jerri is a paralegal.

Speaking of the iconic corduroy blue jacket associated with the FFA, Jake said, “The blue jacket symbolizes the future of American agriculture. The National FFA organization has defined their mission statement as FFA strives to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.

“I believe the blue jacket embodies that same reverence for personal growth and self-improvement that is displayed in the mission statement. My time with the FFA has given me in-depth, hands-on experience working on skills that will benefit me for the rest of my life, including public speaking, responsibility, and accountability, and for that I owe FFA a great debt of gratitude,” said Jake.

Jake also emphasizes how the FFA, agriculture and ag education go way beyond the normal perception of farming.

“A very common misconception about the agriculture industry is that farming is the only career available. In reality, production-based careers only take up a percentage of the industry. Whether it is through production, marketing, research and development, or public policy, careers match any student’s passion. I believe the first step in encouraging a student to become interested in the agricultural industry is to educate them about the vast diversity of career paths available,” he said.

Jake notes that he himself became interested by taking an elective course in Agriculture Foundations as a sixth grader at Barrington Middle School.

Projecting from that day as an 11-year-old into the future, Jake says that next year, “I hope to be studying at the University of Florida to major in Ag Communications.”

He then takes his proposed life plan another few years down the road.

“In five years I hope to be enrolled in the University of Florida’s Law school with the aspiration of becoming an agricultural lawyer. In 20 years I hope to have a successful law practice with the goal of assisting local agriculturists with whatever public policy issues they may have.”

In a lesson in life planning, Jake sees a move full circle, back into the classroom, engaging with the next generation. “In 40 years I hope to retire into Ag education and aspire to inspire my students in the way I was inspired by my own agricultural education experience.”

Jake considers himself fortunate to be where he is in life — professionally and personally.

STePHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON PHOTO
Jake Fitzpatrick with one of his woodworking pieces.

“My favorite experiences within the industry have all revolved around meeting and engaging with other agriculturists. There are so many interesting and unique people within the Ag community, and I have been blessed to grow up in the extremely supportive environment that community has created.”

Even his interests and activities beyond agriculture are unique and distinct. Chief among these is his small amateur woodworking company, Lone Palm Woodworks, in which Fitzpatrick disdains electric power tools and utilizes chisels, handsaws and other hand tools as well as recycled wood.

“One of my biggest hobbies outside of the agriculture industry is woodworking. A few years ago I built a small bench for the front porch out of boredom,” said Jake. “There was something about the satisfaction of seeing the completed project that I had built myself that instantly had me hooked. From then on I started honing my skills in the shop by making pieces for friends and family, and eventually started taking orders for furniture from people around the community. I highly recommend anybody take up some form of craft. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you finally take a step back and view your very own completed project.”

Jake concluded on a philosophical note, expressing contentment and satisfaction: “My election (as a state vice president) shows that you are not judged solely by where you are from or who your parents are, but by the weight of your heart. I now have an important outlet to express my ideas and possibly impact younger FFA members in the same way I have been inspired by senior FFA members during my time in the organization,”

Fitzpatrick is hoping to be in a position financially to attend an FFA international meeting and seminar in South Africa in January 2019. He said he is raising funds by selling his wordworking and accepting donations for this International Leadership Seminar. Anyone can email him at Jake.Fitzpatrick@flaffa.org, to help in any manner.

 

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