NEW LEXINGTON, Ohio — Although they won’t quite get to see the finished product, a group of seniors in the agricultural education program at New Lexington High School say their work has already benefited them, and will benefit many future students.
The group has been hard at work building their own FFA farm — a property located a mile away from the high school in southeastern Ohio’s Perry County — where crops are raised and livestock will soon be kept. The project is in its third year, and this year’s graduating class is the first to complete actual crop production at the farm, along with some facility improvement projects, including newly constructed pasture fence.
The students planted their first crop at the farm in May 2018. They planted four acres of corn, including 12 varieties, so they could make performance and yield comparisons. Next year, they hope to plant 8-10 acres of both corn and soybeans, and make additional improvements to a four-acre pasture connected to an old barn.
Over winter, students have been working to remove old fence around the barn, and install new wooden fence posts and wire. They also have plans to have the barn professionally repaired, with some new wooden siding, concrete work, and new paint on the walls and roof.
The new fence has been a time-consuming project, given the challenging weather Ohio has faced since the fall and through the winter. One of the students, Dalton Thomas, is part of a family fencing business with his father, and his father has lent fencing equipment and support.
Students have installed several dozen new, treated fence posts, lining the perimeter of the pasture, and the fencing wire will soon follow. They also plan to build a holding pen near the barn, for loading and unloading of animals, and for special events, like livestock judging practice.
Although students are doing the project for a learning experience, they’re also focusing on quality and longevity, explained Thomas.
“We’re trying to make it last as long as we can,” he said.
The farm is owned by the county, and was once managed by the county home. The high school has been granted a 20-year lease, with another farmer who currently manages the rest of the tillable acres, about 60 acres altogether.
The initial farm improvements were made possible, in part, by a $200,000 governmental grant.
Learn more about the school and FFA program here.
The advisers are still considering the overall business model of the farm. While they like the idea of generating a profit to cover expenses, they said it also make sense that some projects will not be profitable, because they may be geared toward research or educational value.
The farm has been widely supported by school administration and the superintendent. The official name is the New Appalachian Farmstead Learning Center — also known as the New Lexington FFA Farm.
John Lindsey, one of three FFA advisers at the high school, said it’s a great opportunity for students to learn while doing. He said he can’t imagine teaching agricultural production without using real-world examples, and that the school farm provides a tangible, hands-on learning experience.
So far, Lindsey has donated the use of his own farm equipment, including planting and harvest equipment, and Beck’s Hybrids donated the corn seed. The small acreage doesn’t really justify the school owning its own fleet of farm equipment, Lindsey explained.
He said students took turns planting and harvesting last year’s crop, and actually trained each other on proper equipment operation. Most of the students who work at the farm have an ag background, but they say they’re learning new things along the way.
Senior Brooke Wiseman said the farm helps to teach responsibility and leadership skills, to both farm and non-farm students.
“I just think it’s a learning experience all the way around,” she said.
Wiseman said students helped plan the farm layout in one of their capstone classes, in which instructor Heather Foster helped them envision where different farm features might be placed.
The students and advisers are hoping the farm’s close proximity to the Perry County Fairgrounds — literally just across the street — might lend the farm to housing some fair projects for students who may not have a place to keep an animal.
The New Lexington FFA is one of the biggest in the state, with 357 high school and middle school students enrolled this year. More than half the student body at the high school is enrolled in the program.
The middle school is also involved at the farm, and last year planted and harvested a crop of potatoes. According to Lindsey, the chapter has the potential to expand and grow at the farm, and there are also untillable wooded plots, which serve as an area to study plants and wildlife.
Adviser Adam Finck is looking to possibly start an orchard at the farm, to assist with lessons related to different species of trees. The property also has its own pond, and the group is considering adding educational kiosks in the future, to help farm visitors understand what is happening at each station.
“It should continue to get better year after year, as more things are implemented and the livestock end of things grows and the crop acres continue to grow,” Finck said.
The farm is also situated next to the Hocking College Perry Campus, which offers ag students the opportunity to earn certain dual credits.
Senior Logan Emmert said there will still be opportunities to see the farm as alumni, with the improvements that future students will make.
“We’ve done a lot of work down there and we’re leaving as seniors, not getting to see it fully functioning yet, but it’s still been a learning experience with us all,” he said.
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!