High school students learn to farm by growing food for local nonprofits

CARTER COUNTY, TN (WJHL)- Thanks to a new program, students at one Tri-Cities high school are learning to farm by growing food for local nonprofits.

Each school day, seniors in the agriculture program at Unaka High School have one period where they get to farm on 26 acres of private property thanks to a land owner who lets them use it for free.

“You get to plant food and to help feed, it’s hands-on, you don’t get to sit in a classroom all day,” Unaka High School student River Kimbrell said.
For just a few hours a day the students get to trade in school bells and lectures for livestock and plants they are responsible for raising.

“Getting out of school and doing work…I’m more of a hands-on kind of person,” Unaka High School student Jacob Cannon said.

Agriculture education teacher Josh Armentrout said though this is a rural area, not many students are exposed to farming and agriculture.

“Every generation is getting further removed from agriculture so I definitely think it’s important to get these kids back out in the field,” Armentrout said.

“Our generation is fading away from it,” Kimbrell said. “I’m trying to bring it back into the generation.”
Armentrout said one of the goals of the program is to give the seniors an opportunity to see all aspects of the agriculture industry. They visited game wardens, veterinarians, and Vest’s Greenhouse to learn how to grow and sell vegetables.

Dennis Williams, a farmer at Vest’s Greenhouse said he hopes other high schools will also come visit and learn. “They can call and make an appointment and I can bring the kids and show them how to grow their own food, healthy food,” Williams said.

As for the program at Unaka High School, a $10,000 state grant is helping expand this program down to the youngest generation of students.

“First and third graders came up a few weeks ago and planted the garden beans and potatoes and tomatoes and peppers and all different kinds of stuff,” Armentrout said.

All of the food grown by these students goes to non-profits like Second Harvest Food Bank. The students even volunteer with the organizations, getting to see their work go from seed in to the hands of someone in need.

As for their future in agriculture, “Once I get out of college I want to have a little farm of my own,” Kimbrell said.

“I’ll probably have my own farm, raise cattle, and make money off of that,” Cannon said.

Part of the program also requires the students to put together a resume, portfolio, and letters of recommendation, something that helps the students get prepared for college and job applications no matter their field.

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