Back-to-school basics: Made of plants?

August 15, 2011

Parents are celebrating across the nation – it’s back to school time boys and girls.

This year, while you’re rushing from aisle to aisle to purchase the perfect spiral notebook and skinny leg jeans, remind your kids where their new stuff comes from – and no, not just from Target. Share with your kids that many of the things that they eat, drink, wear and use are by-products of agriculture – grown right here, in the Sunshine State. Even things they use at school are made from plant products. In fact, over 5,000 products that we use everyday are made from trees and plant material.

When children understand where their food comes from, such as from a local farm, they are more interested in trying new fruits and vegetables! This will encourage them to participate in a healthy lifestyle. If they also realize that many of their clothes and other relied upon items come from plant material, they may develop an appreciation for an industry that contributes well over a billion dollars annually to Florida’s economy.

DPI works hard to protect the plant industry, which is the source of many back-to-school necessities.



Crayons – these colorful little tools are made from soybeans. In fact, one acre of soybeans produces 82,368 crayons! Florida farmers planted 25,000 acres of soybeans in 2010, and plan to increase that number this year. Do the math – that’s 2,059,200,000 crayons! Whew – that’s a lot of coloring.

Unfortunately, soybeans are threatened by a pest called soybean rust – that’s where we come in.

Soybean rust is a serious disease that is spread primarily by windborne spores. It entered Florida in 2004 via Hurricane Ivan. The hurricane carried the spores all the way from South America. Soybean-rust infected plants have lesions that increase in size and change from gray to tan or reddish brown on the undersides of the leaves.

DPI’s Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey Program and the USDA are working to keep Florida coloring!

As we all know, paper is made from trees. But did you know that there are over 16 million acres of forests in Florida, representing nearly half of the State’s land area?

Florida’s forest products industry exceeds $16.6 billion – that is a huge impact on our state’s economy! DPI works to protect this economic contributor by researching and detecting tree pests and diseases.

Pine trees, the primary source of pulpwood (wood for producing paper) in Florida, are at risk of invasion of a wood boring beetle. The black turpentine beetle is one of five common species of pine bark beetles in the southeastern United States. These pests bore into the inner bark of stressed or injured pines where they breed and feed on phloem tissue. Numerous beetle attacks per stem will kill a pine tree.



Cotton is the primary component of most of the clothes that we wear. In 2009, Florida produced 78,000 acres of commercial cotton and 31,000 tons of seed. Take a look at this video which shows how cotton gets from the field to fabric: Value of Cotton video.

The cotton seed bug is a serious pest of cotton seeds. It is a seed feeder and must have seeds to complete its development. Normally, cotton seed bugs do not damage the seeds until pods or bolls open. But if caterpillars chew holes into cotton bolls, the cotton seed bugs are able to enter and feed on developing seeds. This harmful pest reduces the quality, germination and oil content of cotton seeds. The boll weevil is another pest of cotton that DPI works to detect and mitigate.

Button, button, who’s got the button? Trees do! Another interesting place to find plants: your buttons. The seed cups of many trees, such as the Florida native Turkey Oak, can be used as buttons. See what other trees are used to make buttons, too.

Too much fun on the playground? Those 5,000 everyday products include one which parents and school nurses are very familiar with – Band-Aids.  The sap extracted from pine trees is used to make the adhesive on Band-Aid strips.

Check out more goods from the woods and test your knowledge!


We can’t forget our favorite way to use plants – as food! A balanced, healthy diet consists of fruits, veggies, grains, protein and dairy. The pyramid retired – check out the new food plate.

Florida’s top crops for consumption are tomatoes, oranges, tangerines, watermelons, sweet corn, bell peppers, cucumbers, snap beans and grapefruit.

The Florida Department of Agriculture is promoting a new campaign to increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in school children and college students across the state. The farm-to-school initiative is an effort to connect schools with regional or local farms in order to serve healthy meals using locally produced foods. The goals of the initiative are:

  • To meet the diverse needs of school nutrition programs in an efficient manner.
  • To support regional and local farmers and thereby strengthen local food systems.
  • To provide support for health and nutrition education

Visit DPI’s website to learn how we work to protect all native plants of Florida.


Explain to kids where their school supplies, clothing and food come from.  Increase their interest in eating fruits and vegetables and pave the way to a healthy lifestyle and a love for agriculture.

Fun idea: Play “I Spy” while school shopping! Let the kids identify various items and what raw agriculture product it came from.

Want to educate your kids even more about plants and insects? Here is some fun stuff for the kiddos!

And check out this link for ways-to-save this back-to-school season.

Please share your back-to-school tips with us! Happy Shopping :)


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