Courtesy photo Jimmy Wohl shows Rollins College environmental studies students the natural water migration flow on Rafter T Ranch.
click any photo to view this story's photo gallery
published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Rafter T hosts students for eco-tourism outreach
Special to the News-Sun
SEBRING -- The award-winning Rafter T Ranch, owned by the Wohl family in Sebring, recently hosted a group of 16 students and three faculty members from the Rollins College Environmental Studies program. The purpose of the field trip was to see a working beef cattle ranch.
The students and faculty originate from various states throughout the U.S. and were hosted by three family members: Jimmy Wohl, Bob Mayworth and Casey Wohl, who is a graduate of the Rollins College environmental studies program.
"We got a great tour of the ranch and a chance to see all of the various projects going on relating to water conservation and water storage as part of the restoration of the Everglades," said Lee Lines, professor of environmental studies and department chair at Rollins College.
"Most importantly, this trip was great for the students to get out and see a working cattle ranch and realize there is a great deal of habitat diversity on a ranch."
After an overnight stay at the historic Kenilworth Hotel and breakfast at Dee's Restaurant in downtown Sebring, the group spent four hours at the ranch, first with a overview of the ranch, its history and the various programs that are being implemented.
After the introduction, they toured the land to see the projects, particularly the Florida Ranchlands Environmental Stewardship Project (FRESP), in operation.
"There's a tremendous learning opportunity for us to visit a ranch, and it improves the students understanding of what circumstances are for private property owners who want to do the right thing but are constrained by their need to run a business," said Barry Allen, professor of environmental studies at Rollins College.
"We came to Rafter T Ranch to look at the FRESP, which is a project that is trying, and succeeding I think, in improving the water regime for the Florida Everglades."
Not only did the group learn about water conservation and management, they also learned about practices commonly used in the Florida ranching business, such as prescribed burning, wildlife managment and rotational grazing.
"Some of these students are from the suburbs and have never been to a farm and they really don't have a sense of where their food comes from," Lines said.
"Being able to see some of the projects provides a better understanding of the role ranching can provide in protecting the environment and providing ecological services."
The experience was a win-win for both the environmental students and faculty and the ranchers.
"What was interesting for me to see is how private property owners can work with a number of different agencies, both at the state and federal level, in a cooperative way that provides environmental benefits while also providing economic incentives for property owners," Allen said.
The students walked away with a better understanding of how cattle ranching in Florida works.
"We learned how providing incentives to ranchers rather than burden them with regulation yields better results," said Kevin George, a Rollins College senior majoring in environmental studies.
"When you actually see the ranch and the work firsthand, it inspires us as students as it helps us construct the situation in our minds better."
The Wohl family encourages other ranchers to reach out to groups for tours and information as it helps ranchers share their story to achieve a better understanding of the cattle industry by America's future leaders.
"After hosting the Rollins College group, it really provides a rewarding feeling to know that we are sharing our story about the ranching community here in Florida," said Jimmy Wohl, president of Rafter T Ranch.
"It would be a wonderful gesture on the part of the ranching industry everywhere to host tours like this so we can get our story out that we are a viable, sustainable agricultural industry producing a nutritious product for the general public."
The tour of Sebring concluded with lunch at downtown Sebring's McLane's Garden Cafe.
Jimmy Wohl's work at Rafter T Ranch has garnered state and national media attention with several prestigious Environmental Stewardship Awards in 1994.
Small Banner Ads