BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
DRESDEN (February 19) – An old farming saying goes something like this: Life on a farm is a school of patience; you can’t hurry the crops or make an ox in two days.
Thanks to the patient and persistent pursuit of a dream, community support and a local university committed to the advancement of agriculture, the Weakley County Schools Livestock Production Farm is growing.
Weakley County Schools Livestock Production Farm, adjacent to the campus of Dresden High School and managed by DHS faculty and students, was first envisioned by ag teacher V.J. Shanklin more than 70 years ago. Current ag teacher and farm manager Jason Kemp continues to nurture that dream.
The vision, as now articulated in Kemp’s educational and marketing materials, includes being “the premiere high school agricultural complex that is both multi-disciplinary and multi-species.” The goal, he underscores, is to “serve students seeking relevant careers, industries needing a trained workforce, and the communities in our area by providing products that will feed families and our economy.”
Recent donations of both land and services have moved the vision from seed stage to a time of harvest.
After successfully supplying all nine school cafeterias with sausage produced from pigs raised by students, the farm is now working with a USDA certified processing plant to offer branded products to the public.
With the recent acquisition of walk-in and reach-in display freezers and the required generator, the farm can now sell branded products on the premises. The new enterprise allows the students the opportunity to acquire marketing and customer service skills.
Products include pork cutlets, shoulder, chops, Boston butt roast, jowl, bacon, ribs, pork burger patties, bratwurst with jalapeno and cheese as well as plain, and mild and medium sausage in rolls. Beef burgers, steaks and roasts are not currently available, but plans are underway for those as well.
“We’ve done our research and priced this competitively,” noted Kemp of the effort that will soon be ready for the public to purchase. The proceeds from the sales of the meat will help to continue to grow the farm enterprise. For more information on pricing and availability, contact Kemp at 731-364-5154.
The farm has also recently entered into an agreement with the University of Tennessee at Martin. The pasture land will be managed by UTM, and Weakley County students will have access to dual-enrollment plant science classes.
The arrangement is made possible due to recent community support efforts.
In late spring of last year, Hal Bynum, the Farm Market Manager at Nutrien Ag Solutions in Union City, arranged for soil samples to be taken at the farm. Nutrien then provided the nitrogen needed for 40 acres. Nutrien reps returned in January and limed 56 acres of pasture ground and crop land.
Zach Oliver and John Oliver, both of Lhoist North America Spinks Clay in Gleason, will provide tree removal and cleanup of the farm ground visible from Highway 22 when weather permits.
The cleanup will allow Weakley Farmers Co-Op to begin planting test plots. The 2021 growing season will feature corn varieties from three seed companies. The UTM classes will focus on this area with the grain generated from these plots and school system farmland going to the Weakley County School program to help feed the livestock.
“We are grateful to Nathan Bradford, the UTM farm manager, Dr. Jason Roberts also at UTM, Jim Bo Davis, our Dresden FFA Alumni President and Jason Brigance, the Agronomy Products Manager at Weakley Farmers Co-Op for making these next steps a reality,” said Lindsey Parham, director of CTE.
With Charles and David Culver’s recent donation of land in memory of the farm’s initial visionary V.J. Shanklin, the farm now includes approximately 65 acres. The brothers were Shanklin’s students, as was Mitchell Culver, son of Charles Culver. All three were FFA members.
That acreage includes seven barns and two grain bins holding the corn which is the basis for the feed prepared on the farm for the swine and bovine program.
Previously, the FFA Alumni Association in Dresden purchased heifers and the students are now in the third year of also raising and finishing beef calves and selling freezer beef to the public.
The farm already provides hands-on training on Large Animal Science and Veterinary Science-based classes which meet the Tennessee Educational curriculum guidelines including:
Hands-on interaction in farrow-to-finish operation of hogs, show pigs and replacement production animals as well as work with Angus and Sim-Angus cow/calf beef herd;
Introduction to veterinary medicine, diagnosing and determining proper health treatments;
Opportunities to perform vaccinations and basic surgical operations and assist in birthing process;
Management skills and record-keeping experience.
“Jason Kemp represents a solid team of ag teachers and FFA advisors in our Weakley County Schools who are committed to passing along a passion for farming and leading our students to continue to dream about what’s next,” said Parham. “We are definitely standing on the shoulders of Mr. Shanklin and so many others as we strive to provide experiences for students across the county.”
To learn more about what students in the CTE and agriculture-related classes are doing at Weakley County Schools, see Pages 7 and 8 of today’s edition of The Enterprise.