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Florida Hotspots
By Nayah Boucaud, Grade 8

Where are you going this summer vacation? Did you decide to go on a trip? Why spend money on plane tickets to go overseas when you can just visit Florida? That’s right, Florida has it all!

From the beaches to Disney World, a Florida “staycation” is a growing trend. Check out these seven awesome Florida hotspots. You may be surprised at how much you can do in your own state!

Walt Disney World: This family of four theme park, two water parks, and endless fun under the sun is located in Orlando. Florida residents even get a discount! Check it out at http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/.

Ocala National Forest: Love to canoe, go camping or kayak? In Silver Springs, you can do all of this and more! Check it out at http://www.fs.usda.gov.

Everglades Alligator Farm: Trying to get over your fear of alligators? This attraction boasts 2000 gators. Get a free coupon at http://www.everglades.com/.

Florida Keys: Love to swim, dive and snorkel? Are you more of a water person? Grab your bathing suit and get down to the Florida Keys! This one will cost you a plane ride but it is worth it. More information at http://www.fla-keys.com/.

Busch Gardens: A zoo, theme park and safari wrapped up in one beautiful package. If you are in Tampa, this is the place to be. Check it out at http://www.buschgardens.com.

SpaTerre at LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort: Want to relax in a spa or beat your friends at golf? This is the perfect vacation spot for both parents and kids. Find it at http://www.laplayaresort.com.

Gameworks: Play great games of all types and enjoy great food. Kids can enjoy themselves as much as the adults in the kid’s area. Gameworks has it all! Just check out their website at http://www.gameworks.com.

So now do you know where you will be going for summer vacation? There is no need to go overseas when there are so many things to do in your own backyard.

You can find more information on things to do in Florida by visiting http://www.tripadvisor.com/.

When you are done with your vacation, write a report on it and show it to your friends. Let the word get out on all the awesome places in Florida!

Sources:
Disney World: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/
Ocala National Park: http://www.fs.usda.gov.
Everglades Alligator Farm:  http://www.everglades.com/.
Florida Keys:  http://www.fla-keys.com/.
Busch Gardens:  http://www.buschgardens.com.
SpaTerre at LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort: http://www.laplayaresort.com.
Gameworks:  http://www.gameworks.com
Trip Advisor: http://www.tripadvisor.com/

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The Concerns About GMOs: Beneficial, Benign, or Bad?
By Kristen Wenger, Grade 11

For hundreds of years humans have been subtly influencing plants through selective breeding to be bigger, tastier, or more resilient.  In the past twenty years, after the discovery of DNA and with the increased knowledge of how genetics work, scientists have been modifying plants and animals through the addition of cross-species genetic material to their DNA.  This process, known as genetic modification, is now widespread, but not everyone agrees as to how wise our development, growth, and consumption of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) actually are.
   
When they were first introduced, farmers were told that the first genetically modified organisms would make their duty simpler. GMOs were meant to reduce pesticide use, increase yield, and, potentially, find an easier way to provide more people with food. Thus, GMOs, which various scientists had been testing and developing since the late 1980s and early 1990s, were introduced with what farmers believed and what appeared to be the public's welfare in mind. With such high ideals behind their usage, what could possibly be bad about GMOs?
   
Emerging evidence warns that, in fact, there might be far more amiss with them than those first farmers bargained for.  GMOs are now widespread in America, with, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, over 75 percent of processed foods containing one or more GMO ingredients (usually from corn, soy, or canola).  More foods are likely to contain them now that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently approved GMO alfalfa and GMO sugar beets.  Though GMOs are quite common, there are potentially major concerns over their environmental impact, their impact on human health, and even their impact on animal welfare.
   
Some researchers, such as Don Huber, PhD of Purdue University, claim that GMO foods- especially vegetables and fruits- have lower levels of important nutrients because the alien DNA inserted into them disrupts important systems which would typically aid in dispersing key nutrients throughout the plant.  But decreased levels of vital nutrients are not the main health concern with GMO crops: some “superweeds” have developed resistance to the typical herbicides in use on crops for human consumption.  In order to use more powerful weed killers, new GM crops have been produced which can withstand stronger herbicides such as 2,4-D, an endocrine disruptor linked with many health issues, such as cancer, Parkinson's Disease, and reproductive abnormalities.  Such effects may not be easy to spot, however.  In an interview with Dr. Neal Barnard published in the April/May 2011 issue of Vegetarian Times, it is stated that a report published in the journal Nutrition Reviews seems to show that the effects of GMO foods, if present, may be subtle and create abnormalities without becoming apparent.
   
Environmentally speaking, all of that pesticide usage is no good, either.  It is common knowledge that pest and weed killers are capable of having unintended consequences on local flora and fauna, both in the water and on land.  Yet since the introduction of GMO crops, which were meant to make herbicide use lesser, nationwide pesticide use has increased by 300 million pounds! Not only that, but through pollination and other biological processes, non-GMO plants and animals may come to be modified, too, which could have devastating effects on biodiversity. Such spread could even impact organic foods, which, according to the Organic Seed Alliance, is already occurring.

Animals, too, may be negatively impacted by the decision to produce GMOs.  As Dr. Neal Barnard states, “[w]hen animals are made to mature faster, grow larger, or produce more milk, they are likely to suffer in the process.”  Through genetic modification, the “limits of what animals can be forced to do” may be extended even further, resulting in more cruelty towards animals born and raised for food consumption, especially in factory farms.

Though GMOs are becoming ever more widespread, there are ways to avoid them.  Any product certified as “organic” cannot contain any GMOs.  Most broccoli, bananas, apples, oranges, and other fruits and vegetables (with the exception of corn) are not GMO (if you wish to be absolutely certain, check the PLU code on the barcode: if it begins with an 8, it has been genetically modified).  Another less easy, but more fulfilling way of avoiding GMOs, of course, is to grow your own organic vegetables.  By making the choice to not GMOs, you can help preserve not only your health but that of animals and the planet, as well.

Sources: 
    Barnard, Neal. “Should You Say No to GM Foods?” Vegetarian Times April/May 2011: 26-28.
    Hemmelgarn, Melinda.” Bin the Know About GMOs.” Natural Awakenings May 2011: 46-47.

KelseyG
5/23/2011 02:11:18 am

Wow. Yes, the Florida Keys are awesome! I was able to go down there last summer and I hope to again this year! We didn't take a plane, though. It's a long drive, but plane tickets are unnecessary. I highly recommend that vacation choice!

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Rebekah Doucette
6/15/2011 03:43:03 am

I love Florida. The only place I've been to on your list (so far) is Busch Gardens. But yeah, that's definitely a place to go, especially with their new roller coaster running, Cheetah Hunt! =D

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