Thursday, March 28, 2013

Manatee Players not the only thespians in the news this week

Manatee and Lakewood Ranch students. (provided photo)
Lakewood Ranch and Manatee high school students. (provided photo)

A performance of Miss Saigon will inaugurate the opening of the Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton tonight.

The Manatee Players are big news this week with long anticipated opening of the new theater.

Also making some drama news are students from Lakewood Ranch High School, Manatee School for the Arts and Manatee High School.

Each of the schools was represented in Tampa at the International Thespian Society Florida State Thespian Festival . . . and did very well.

It was a friendly competition. The teachers from each school have close personal relationships. How close? Roxane Caravan of Lakewood Ranch is the mother of Katy Knowles of Manatee High School. Roxanne is also close friends with Pat Ross of Manatee School for the Arts.

We don't have all the results yet, but as we get them we'll add to the blog post.

Here's what Roxane told us:

"Our students represented Lakewood Ranch High School, Manatee County, and our district thespians in a outstanding way both from a behavioral standpoint and competitively speaking. We also were chosen to participate in a master class and exhibition flying performance based on the theme of the festival "The Greatest Show on Earth" and our students became part of a circus performance which included aerial flying.

"It was pretty spectacular to see these kids flying through the air.  Video to come! Please congratulate these students on a job well done. All students performing received at least 1-4 superior ratings from their performances.  So very proud of their work!

"The cast and crew of "Nuncrackers" received straight 'superior" ratings on their one act performance.
Channing Weir received straight "superior" ratings on her solo musical and she auditioned for scholarship money and was chosen as one of the 14 scholarship recipients in the state of Florida out of hundreds and was awarded $1,000," Roxane said.

Other Lakewood Ranch results:

Lakewood Ranch's Small Group Musical "She's in Love" from Disney's "The Little Mermaid Jr."  received straight "superior" ratings.

Large Group Musical "Run Freedom Run" from "Urinetown" received "excellent" ratings.

Duet Acting "DMV Tyrant" received "excellent" ratings.

Ensemble Acting "Playwriting 101" received "excellent" ratings.

Costume Construction "Seussical the Musical" received "excellent" ratings.

Among the Lakewood Ranch students were: Kasey Blanco, Katie Ciemniecki, Melina Cuffaro, Rebekah Frey, Sabrina Gallien, Justina Gomez-Guadalupe, Rachel Gross, Joseph Grosso, Jalbelly Guzman, Kylee McKinney, Kristen Mendez, Cassandra Rankin, Kylee Risdon, Jillian Smith, Ciara Vitaioli,
Ethan Weaver, and Channing Weir.

Patricia Ross of Manatee School for the Arts reported her results:

"As a result of attending the District 6 Competition that was in October (schools from Bradenton to Naples) Nick Drivas,  of MSA was selected from all 997 kids attending to represent District 6.  Nick does a performance of Bring Him Home from Les Miserables  If  you have ever been to the Straz in Tampa you know how magnificent that theater is. It was an overwhelming experience to see one of our students take that stage as a soloist and receive a standing ovation from 5,000 people, not once but twice!!

"One of our Costume students Ardelia MacPhail constructed a beautiful costume, depicting the lead character in Mrs. Warren’s Profession. As a fresham she received a perfect score of straight superiors…not one point off," Patricia said.

"As we attended the festival we then had to deal with Nick’s entourage of fans asking for photos and giving him phone numbers. It was really an adventure. You may have seen Nick Drivas in some community theater productions. He is an excellent yet very humble performer, " Pat said.

Among the Manatee School for the Arts students were Nick Drivas – Straight Superior – Solo Musical - Representing entire District, Ardelia MacPhail – Costume Construction – Straight Superior, Devin Fuentes / Jessie Muns  Duet Acting-- Superior, Katelyn Priest/Nick Drivas -  Duet Musical – Superior, Teagan Duncan – Solo Musical – Superior, Brittany Bauer – Costume Construction - Superior
Julia Thompson – Solo Musical – Excellent, Julie Hereford – Costume Design – Excellent, and
Katelyn Priest – Solo Musical – Superior.

As we get more results and photos, we'll add to the blog.
Manatee County thespians in Tampa. (provided photo)
Manatee School for the Arts students Brittany Bauer , Julia Hereford , Costume Coach: Lisa Sherer , Ardelia MacPhail, Mandolin MacPhail. All competed in Costume Design/Construction. (provided photo)
Manatee School for the Arts troupe and sponsors: Patricia Ross & Michael Bajjaly.
(provided photo)

Manatee and Lakewood Ranch students. (provided photo)

Manatee School for the Arts' Ardelia MacPhail won straight superior in costume construction.
(provided photo)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan plans Lakewood Ranch listening stop on jobs, spending and the economy

Have something on your mind about the federal government, and want to bend somebody's ear?

Here's your chance: Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, will hold a listening session on jobs, spending and the economy in Lakewood Ranch on March 23.

To RSVP,  contact Buchanan's District Office at 941-951-6643.

The session is set for 11 – noon at Lake Erie College of Medicine, 5000 Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Packing all that Manatee County farm information into the brain no easy operation

Mac Carraway, president of SMR Farms,  discusses operations at Lakewood Ranch.
(provided photo)

Jason McKendree, cattle and land manager, for SMR Farms, discussed the cattle operation
 (provided photo)
The folks who recently took a Manatee County farm tour got just a taste of the sprawling business that is agriculture in  Manatee County.

That's certainly not to disparage the tour coordinated by the Manatee River Soil and Water Conservation District.

But you do need a mighty long pair of arms to get them around a business that accounts for $2.5 billion in annual revenues and employs more than 49,000 people, according to the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Green, green watercress.
Gail Somodi, soil conservation supervisor affiliated with Manatee County, the state of Florida and the U.S. Department of Agriculture,  shared details of what the farm visitors saw.

Read more here:

First stop on the tour took visitors to Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, where Mac Carraway, president of SMR Farms, and Jason McKendree, SMR cattle and land manager, discussed the vast operation at Lakewood Ranch.

SMR's thriving operations include citrus, sod, nursery, and mining. It produces more than 1,000 calves  for the beef cattle market annually.

Large animal veterinarian Dr. Johnnie Copeland, with Sarasota Equine Associates, immunized and applied treatments and preventatives to several calves in a demonstration arranged by McKendree, said  Somodi, who also doubled as tour guide.

Jack Creighton, a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist, said this was the first time the tour has included a demonstration of veterinary services, highlighting the connection between animal health and safe products for consumers.

The next stop on the tour, also at Lakewood Ranch, was Sarasota Polo Club.  Attendees watched a portion of a polo match played on one of nine fields with a unique underground irrigation system, and heard comments from a polo player, Somodi said.

Next up was a hot meal at Myakka Family Worship Center in Myakka City.

Another stop in the Myakka City area included Watercress Farms, whose produce is shipped via Virgin Airways from Orlando to Great Britain. Baby leaf salad crops and other spring mix salads are also grown.

Finally, visitors stopped by a new packinghouse, Utopia Packing.

As boxes moved through the packinghouse, workers packed bell peppers. Up to 4,000 boxes can pass through the packinghouse per hour.

Utopia packs bell peppers, hot banana peppers, jalapenos, a variety of specialty peppers, and cucumbers for major retailers in the United States and Canada.
Visitors observe bell pepper packing at Utopia. (provided photo)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Florida wine country right here in Manatee County

Larry and Lenora Wood of Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery. (Herald file photo)

East Manatee is home to two family wineries, Rosa Fiorelli Winery & Vineyard, 4250 County Road 675 E., and Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, 8905 Bunker Hill Road, Duette.

Both of them welcome the public. Each winery has its own character, style and charm.

Naturally, when we think of wineries, we think of grapes. And indeed, both of the vineyards grow their own.

Larry and Lenora Woodham of Bunker Hill also feature something a little different.

Their "whole fresh fruit" wines of the season will be available for tasting and sale starting March 22. Among them: strawberry, papaya, lemon and red grapefruit wines.

"All of our fruit wines are made just like our grape wines with the whole fresh fruit, unfiltered and aged a minimum of one year before they are bottled. If you like the fruit, you will love the wine," the Woodhams say.

The fruit wines are available in limited quantities. Some of the other fresh fruit wines that will be coming out this year include Florida peach, banana, blackberry, blueberry, key lime, sweet potato, mango and pineapple.

For hours and times, visit their websites:

Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery:

Rosa Fiorelli Winery & Vineyard:

Antonio Fiorelli samples his grapes at Rosa Fiorelli Winery & Vineyard. (Herald file photo)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spring Fling at Lakewood Ranch to attract business community

Business folks, here's a reminder: the Manatee Chamber of Commerce fourth-annual Spring Fling Business Expo is set for 4-7 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at the Chamber’s Lakewood Ranch Office in the McClure Center, 4215 Concept Court. 

Here are two views of the preparations on Wednesday:

Kyle Wood helps set up a Spring Fling tent. 
(Herald photo by Jim Jones)

Jahna Leinhauser directs the setup.
(Herald photo by Jim Jones)

Bond deepens between Lakewood Ranch's Harvest United Methodist Church and Samoset Elementary

Andrew Rivera, Liliana Hernandez and Emilia Bravo of Samoset Elementary School. (Herald photo by Jim Jones)
Pastor Steven Price of Lakewood Ranch's Harvest United Methodist Church says Tuesday is the highlight of his week. That's when he gets to read to students at Samoset Elementary School.

It must be a highlight for the students, too, to have this genial, very tall visitor who has genuine affection for them in their midst.

The relationship between Harvest, a super successful church that Price co-pastors with his wife Catherine, and Samoset, which has a huge number of disadvantaged students, is one of my favorite feel good stories.

The school and the church are miles apart, but have developed close bonds in recent years.

It started with a pack-a-sack program, where the church supplied 95 bags of food a week that children could take home on weekends to ensure they had something to eat. Recognizing that the kids could be home alone, the sack contained food the children could easily open themselves.

Tuesday, church members presented a gift of more than $40,000 to the school, where there are so many needs, and the staff, faculty and children are so thankful for any help they receive.

Spending just a little time with the Samoset children on Tuesday, I could see why the Harvest folks are so taken with them.

For more, read Erica Earl's story:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

USF head football coach Willie Taggart comes home to Palmetto

Willie Taggart with the key to the City of Palmetto. (Herald photo by Jim Jones)

Work hard, don't forget where you came from, never  get complacent.

This prescription for success sounds as corny as an Iowa farm field, doesn't it?

Except when somebody like Willie Taggart, the new head football coach for the University of South Florida says it.

Taggart came home to Palmetto this week, and brought along most of his USF coaching staff.

The occasion was a rousing reception at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, where more than 300 hometown folks turned out to greet and cheer this hometown hero. Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant was there, too, to present him with the key to the city.

Taggart, who came from one of Palmetto's toughest neighborhoods, always had a dream to be someone, and a strong family encouraging him.

His story has a special resonance for Palmetto and Bradenton, but all of Manatee County can share the pride for what Taggart has achieved.

He thought he might play in the National Football League, but when that didn't materialize, he went into college coaching with great success.

That's a lesson for kids in Manatee County neighborhoods who hope to play pro sports. It's the rare person who makes a pro team, but fortunately there are many other routes to success.

Willie Taggart never forgot where he came from. Monday, he praised Manatee High School, where he played quarterback, as the best high school in the land. He paid tribute to his old high school coach, Joe Kinnan, and his high school team mates. He also paid tribute to Palmetto, and proudly showed his coaches where he grew up.

And he asked the home folks to support USF.

"I challenge everyone to get five new season ticket holders. If you can't get five, get two. If you can only get one, I'll be happy," he told the crowd, filled with USF alums.

His goal: to heat up on the football field, and to fill the stands with rabid fans in Tampa.

By any standard, Willie Taggart is a success, but he'll be the first to tell you that he's not standing still. His goal is to become a better coach, a better person, and to achieve more.

One of my favorite moments from the hometown reception actually occurred after it was all over. That's when Taggart embraced his wife and children, and spent time with friends who gathered around him. And there was a 9th grader from Manatee High School there, too. His name was Blake Green. I couldn't tell what Taggart was saying to him, but he had his hand on his shoulder, and I'm pretty sure those were words of encouragement that he was giving to Blake.

For more, see Alan Dell's story.

Willie Taggart with 9th grader Blake Green. (Herald photo by Jim Jones)