Hamilton County High School has an all-new agricultural program this year with some exciting additions to the curriculum.
Agriculture teacher Doug Clayton, who is a 1985 graduate of HCHS, is enthused about getting everything in order and looking good with the assistance of his students. One big project for this year is landscaping “the back forty”, so to speak. There is a large field behind the school building which has been designated for use by the agriculture students and is used for a variety of projects.
“We’re going to end up landscaping all this,” Clayton said, pointing across the field. “It’ll be plants that we need for identification. It will be very diverse plants. It won’t be a hedge of all the same thing.”
Clayton and his students have also begun work on an outdoor kitchen, and when the entire project is completed, Clayton said it will be nice and presentable. One greenhouse on the property, he stated, was moved to the site from Panther and it sustained some damage during the process, which will have to be repaired, however there is another greenhouse that is in use. Clayton said they are still in the early stages of getting everything cleaned up and organized.
Just across from the greenhouse is a fenced in area where a few baby calves call home.
“The kids love that,” Clayton said.
Farther out in the field is a pen with pigs and in another fenced in area there are an assortment of ducks and different breeds of chickens. One chicken with an orange breast is the result of a genetics experiment by mating two different breeds together, Clayton explained.
“When they’re a day old, you know whether they’re a male or a female because of their color,” he said.
The chicken with the orange spot on the breast is a female, Clayton said, and the male comes out black with a white spot on its head.
“It simplifies the process because you can give the males a high-protein feed and prepare them for slaughter,” he said.
Inside the greenhouse there are already many things growing, including red peppers that Clayton is proud to see all plump and red in the flower bed.
The beginnings of a full-service orchard are beginning to take shape, as well, with blackberry, fig, pear and citrus trees. A lone corn plant stands out in the middle of the orchard. Clayton said he doesn’t know where the seed came from, but the plant looks so healthy that he doesn’t want to uproot it. He said it hasn’t been fertilized, either.
“Since corn is the symbol of the (Future Farmers of America), I figured we’d leave it up here for its duration,” Clayton said. “You hate to do away with something that’s doing so well.”
Clayton heads up the FFA program at the school. He attended the University of Florida, which is a big supporter of FFA. The UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is a federal-state-county partnership with facilities located throughout Florida.
“They do a great job for us,” Clayton said.
FFA, Clayton explained, is a national agricultural-based youth organization.
“It’s managed from the top down and we have competitive events in many different things, not just traditional agriculture,” Clayton said. “They have public speaking and parliamentary procedure contests and a lot of leadership building activities.”
Even in urban areas, Clayton said, FFA is gaining a bigger presence because some kids never get to see a farm. FFA is trying to change that.
“Ag courses are science-certified,” Clayton said, as he pointed to another genetics experiment inside the classroom using field peas.
By doing these genetics experiments the students are introduced to the way plant breeders select different products, especially ones that are desirable in the marketplace. Clayton said a lot of the new curriculum is designed to give the students a head-start on college studies.
Eleventh grader, Winston Crosby, is one of Clayton’s students and he is also the vice president of the Hamilton County chapter of FFA.
“We help get the students involved in the community,” Crosby said of the objectives of FFA. “We teach them about agriculture. We’re really big in the farm community. We help kids who don’t ‘fit in’ in other places,” he added, speaking about kids who grew up on farms.
Crosby said FFA gives scholarships, as well.
“The chapter level right here is just one part,” he said. “You have state level, you have national level, and it goes a lot further than what we can give them, but if they’re willing to put in the effort and actually work in the FFA , they can go somewhere, they can go to college for agriculture, they can be national president.”
Crosby said they tend to average about 80 to 100 students per year who participate in FFA at HCHS.
“It’s one of the biggest programs in the school. It’s not hard to join. You only have to pay Mr. Clayton $20 and you’re a member,” he said.
With that $20 you will get a shirt and you can enter any contest FFA offers, Crosby explained, and they offer a multitude of them each year in many different categories. The officers, he said, take care of the other expenses by holding fundraisers and community service projects.
“Mr. Clayton has a lot of plans to make our chapter more self-reliant so that we don’t have to do as many fundraisers,” Crosby said. “The fundraisers we do will be more excess instead of necessities. He’s already started selling pepper sauce that we grow in our own garden.”
There are also big plans in the works for the sugar cane growing in the field.
Crosby said FFA helps its members in other ways with a program called Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE). SAE is an agricultural education program with three components; classroom instruction, FFA and supervised agricultural experience.
Students learn by doing, with help from their agriculture teachers, and they develop an SAE project based on one or more categories of entrepreneurship, placement, research and experimentation, as well as exploring careers in agriculture.
“If you grew up on a big cattle farm you might want to do something with beef production and you work on that throughout your high school years,” Crosby said. “That’s something else that FFA offers scholarships in. Every year at the state convention those people who have won are recognized and some even go on to win national scholarships.”
Crosby has plans to attend college to study architecture at Auburn in Alabama or Valdosta State University. When asked why, he said, “Architecture and agriculture go hand-in-hand. Everything you see out there we built. The greenhouse has been built for a long time now, several Ag teachers before Mr. Clayton. The shelter with the red roof, I actually remember helping work on that back in about 8th grade.”
If you think you might be interested in learning more about agriculture or the FFA, Mr. Clayton or Winston Crosby would be more than happy to give you all the particulars.