Title: 2005 Ag-Environmental: Richard N. Raid, Ph.D.
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
It’s the day these elementary school students have been waiting for. It’s their day for working in the garden and their enthusiasm is hard to contain. Rick Raid is as excited as they are. While volunteering at his child’s elementary school, he saw the need for environmental awareness so he started Student SOAR, Sharing Our Agricultural Roots, as a School Gardens Program. His passion for teaching and the outdoors inspires these kids and instills in them an appreciation of the importance of Agriculture.
Rick Raid, Professor, Plant Pathology, University of Florida: My original intent was simply to establish some gardens at schools so that kids could actually see how vegetables are grown, where their food was coming from. That was very important to me. So it was simply an ag awareness sort of thing.
Never anticipating the response of the students and teachers, he quickly found the program blossoming far beyond a simple garden. Now there are well over 70 schools participating throughout Florida, most of which were established by Raid himself.
Kathy Picano, Teacher, H.L. Johnson Elementary: We’ve earned awards because of Dr. Raid’s input. And my children have opened their eyes to the environment. They want to recycle. They want to help and they also want to find out more in careers of botany and zoology and environmental studies. I have many in college now and they come back to visit and they share with me the majors that they are pursuing. And it’s because of Dr. Raid.
Rick Raid: I think it’s important for our youth as our future voters, the people that are gonna be making the decisions in this state that they have a connection to agriculture, they realize its importance, not just from a food standpoint but also as an environmental standpoint.
A tireless educator, he has volunteered thousands of hours of his own time. Whether working in the schools, with the boy scouts, or Audubon Society, it’s important to Raid to let people know that agriculture and the environment can not only co-exist, they actually benefit one another.
Rick Raid: As a person that feels that everybody has a responsibility to this earth, to this environment, I feel a responsibility to agriculture.
As a University of Florida professor of Plant pathology, Raid is based at UF’s Everglades Research and Education Center, in Belle Glade.
Rick Raid: I love working with agriculture, feeling that I’m a part of the food system, providing food for our tables and so from that standpoint I just simply love being involved.
His work is research and assisting area vegetable growers in diagnosing and controlling crop disease.
Known as “the most beneficial bird to mankind,” the barn owl has certainly proven that to the growers in the Everglades Agricultural Area. A single owl consumes more than 1,000 rats, mice, and marsh rabbits each year, giving growers much-needed relief from the rodents that can cause $30 million-a-year in crop loss.
In1994, Raid suggested to a high school student he was mentoring that using the barn owl as rodent control would make a good science fair project. They built boxes for the owls to nest in and placed them near the cane fields.
When Raid heard that Wayne Boynton, a Belle Glade area sugarcane grower, was using a similar practice successfully on his farm, Raid and his student visited Boynton and learned from his ideas. The science fair project won awards and the experiment led to something much bigger.
Now, all of Florida’s major sugarcane producers and the area’s leafy vegetable growers participate in the program. The nesting boxes have 100 percent occupancy and all of the growers have reported success. It’s a win-win situation; barn owls now have ideal nesting habitat, agriculture benefits in having fewer rodent pests and the environment is exposed to less chemical rodenticide.
Rick Raid: Every year in the past, farmers would spend tens of thousands of dollars, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars on chemical rodenticides to try to control the rodent problems that infested our fields. Having barn owls to maintain this control rather than putting out rodenticides is a tremendous cost benefit to them and it’s also lessening the impact that those chemicals might have on the environment.
The area now has some of the highest concentrations of barn owls in the U.S.
One of Florida agriculture’s best public relations campaigns, the barn owl program has been featured in National Geographic, on CNN and PBS’s Nature series. It has drawn national and international attention and has lead to efforts to implement the project throughout other regions in the U.S., Central America, South Africa, and Australia.
What began as a science fair project has become a full-fledged research program, with scientists studying the impact of barn owls on rodent populations in the Everglades agricultural area.
The project is also an excellent vehicle for teaching agriculture, zoology, and ecology. Raid knew that adding the barn owls to SOAR’s curriculum would stimulate the students’ sense of wonder. The annual culmination of the students’ studies is the “Owl Prowl.” The students are invited to the Everglades Research and Education Center during nesting season. They observe the owls in boxes they have built.
Rick Raid: Nature is just wondrous in terms of all it can offer to these students. And you see this enthusiasm and curiosity come alive that just doesn’t blossom when you’re just simply book learning.
They immersed themselves in the habits, physiology, and life of the owl. They become sleuths and learn anatomy at the same time by dissecting owl pellets.
Rick Raid: One thing I’ve learned in working with kids is cute is good but gross is better. So if you’ve got the regurgitated remains of rodents, and you expose kids to this, then you might get a few oohs and ahs initially and then pretty soon they want to learn more and become more involved. And they just can’t wait to dissect these pellets to see exactly what those barn owls have eaten.
The students challenge their parents to “Barn Owl Jeopardy.”
Perhaps most of all, the students gain self-esteem knowing that they’re having an impact on the world around them; that they are making a difference.
Rick Raid: It’s something that I really relish. Just the interactions, the feeling of enthusiasm and seeing the interest in science and nature just come alive in students. I love that.