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The cream of the crop

The school system honors a beloved agricultural teacher upon his retirement by naming the Gaither High land lab after him.

By LOGAN D. MABE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


NORTHDALE -- Gaither High School agriculture teacher Howard Satin reached the professional pinnacle of his 32-year career with the district this week when the School Board bestowed one of its highest honors.

The board named a pig farm after him. Rare air, indeed.

From this point on, Gaither's land lab, which was nothing but 4 acres of scrub when Satin started, will be known as the Howard Satin Agricultural Complex.

The School Board is good about naming things for longtime educators. Beloved football coaches get their names on new stadiums. Names of revered administrators grace the brick facades of new schools.

For Satin, having the land lab named after him is a fitting tribute. Satin put the school farm together piece by piece over the years, hounding local lumber yards for supplies and area ranchers for calves and piglets.

Satin is Gaither's first and only agriculture teacher, starting the department when the school opened in 1984. "The only thing we had when Gaither started was a fenced in 4-acre plot," Satin said. "There was nothing else out there and no money to develop it. I went out in the community and got different ranchers and farmers to donate me a calf so we could get our animal science program going. Then I got Robbins Lumber to donate wood for pens."

Since then, Satin's students have created a model ag program that is one of the largest in the state. The land lab is now home to a herd of Nubian goats, a chicken house, pig pens and a breeding compound, a vegetable farm and a small nursery. Students run the whole show.

Blue ribbons from winning State Fair entries form a curtain of honor in the class where students learn about everything from animal husbandry to agribusiness.

"He doesn't just like kids, he loves kids," said junior Windy Jenks.

"He brings the country to us," said junior Karl Jahrsdoerfer.

"We're kids from the suburbs, but because of Mr. Satin, cattle, swine and goats are basically my life now," said senior Jennifer Bartlo, president of Gaither's Future Farmers of America club.

"His goal in life is to build us a rainbow of success," said Jen Channell, who got a taste of that success when her pig won more than $2,000 in State Fair competitions this year.

School Superintendent Earl Lennard, himself a former ag teacher, said Satin learned better than most the first lesson taught by longtime University of Florida agriculture professor W.T. Lofton.

"We teach students, not content," Lennard said, recalling Lofton's words. "While curriculum is very important, more important is that he teaches students. Howard learned that very well. His greatest concern is for the welfare and advancement of his youngsters."

Satin is a warm heart and gentle voice wrapped in a package of chambray and work boots. Born in Connecticut in 1945, Satin's family moved to little Tavares when he was 2 years old; his mother and father ran a candy factory there.

"They made all kinds of chocolate and citrus candy and peanut brittle," Satin said. "I developed my agriculture interests because that area of Florida has a big citrus industry."

Satin majored in food crops while at UF and sought a career in big citrus. But with a war raging in Vietnam, he said many employers were hesitant to give a job to a college graduate who could be drafted at any time.

With teachers in short supply in Florida, Satin decided to seek a job with the Hillsborough County school system and sought his education degree in his spare time.

Satin taught for four years, then resigned to take a job in agribusiness to learn more about the real-life aspects of what he was teaching. After two years in the marketplace, he returned to teaching and never looked back.

"To be a teacher today, you've got to live and understand kids," Satin said. "The finest students will have days when they're moody or just mad at the world. And you have to know how to handle those situations. Sometimes it's better to talk about fishing for a day instead of the book work."

But Satin drives his students, too. He said about 80 percent of the students who graduate from the ag program go on to college, and a good percentage of those pursue degrees in agriculture. "Now they're professional managers of big hog farms, big poultry companies, and we even have a young lady in the vet college," Satin said.

Though he's only 55 years old and could teach for another decade, Satin said he wants to go out on top.

"To be honest with you, after 32 years the time is right," Satin said. "My last child is graduating from UF this year. I said to myself, 32 years I've loved it and I've enjoyed it, but it's time to say goodbye. I've had some beautiful days in the sun."

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