Ag grant leads to big plans for county schools program

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By John Singleton

Thomas Nelson High School’s agriculture program has been chosen to be one of the first recipients of Kentucky FFA Foundation’s new Agriculture Innovation grant. This will lead to a number of opportunities for all students at the school, said agriculture teacher John Hammond. 

“This will provide opportunities that every student will benefit greatly from,” he said.

Hammond said the $10,000 grant will be spent on several projects, including trees for an orchard, a mobile chicken coop and an open source precision agriculture farming tool called a FarmBot; all of which will help develop its 40-acre land lab on the school’s campus.

The Land Lab Legacy project was an idea that had been in Hammond’s head for a long time, he said, but it began this year as he was able to offer a class made for implementing the beginning phases of the land lab.

Ideas of students will soon become real, thanks to this grant, Hammond said.

Jennifer Dones, treasurer of the FFA chapter at Thomas Nelson, said she has looked into how much fruit the cafeteria goes through daily and suggested possible solutions the grant will allow.

To grow fruit in the school’s very own orchard for all students to consume would be excellent, and she said she even started researching trees that were top producers and were within a size range that students could easily harvest what was grown.

The orchard is not the agriculture program’s only planned purchase that will add educational opportunities to the program.

“The chicken coop will provide fresh eggs in the cafeteria,” Hammond said. “The new FarmBot is a good investment for livestock purposes. All this will help us become a cultural hub for agriculture in the community.”

The Kentucky FFA Foundation is looking forward to seeing the result of its decision, said Executive Director Sheldon McKinney.

“We wanted to give a program the opportunity to really do something that could change the trajectory of a student’s experience,” McKinney said. “We have offered smaller grants for a long time, and those make a difference. But we wanted to be able to go beyond meeting the basic needs for a program with these grants. The schools that received the grants this year had a great plan for what this money can achieve. They also have some pieces that we hope will eventually make this a project they can take on and sustain themselves.”

FFA Foundation Chairman Adam Hinton sees the Agriculture Innovation grant as the money to turn all agriculture programs’ ideas into a reality.

“We hope these hands-on opportunities will lead to many future successes for these students and their FFA chapters,” he said.