DRESDEN — When former Governor Ned Ray McWherter was a student at Dresden High School, Ag Teacher V.J. Shanklin was tending to his own legacy – a fully functioning farm that would allow high schoolers to experience firsthand the practices and technologies that have made Weakley County a state leader in agriculture. Almost 70 years later, innovation continues to thrive on the 65 acres housing the Weakley County Schools Livestock Program, currently the only high school production facility with swine and cattle in the state.
That intersection of history and futuristic opportunities will be the scene of Weakley County’s Farm-to-School Kick-off, Tuesday, October 1 beginning with an onsite tour, 7150 TN 22, at 4:30 p.m. Following the tour, a farm-to-table forum and breakfast dinner highlighting the farm’s sausage and local farmers’ contributions will be offered free to the public with a reservation. The cost of the meal is covered by a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant through the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (LFN) in partnership with the Weakley County School System.
“October is National Farm to School Month which makes our October 1st event timely,” noted Ashley Kite-Rowland, LFN Director of Research and Community Outreach. “Our goal is to share information about current farm to school programming in our county, identify additional assets and needs, and begin to develop a collaborative vision regarding how we can effectively incorporate farm to school activities into all grades at every school. We are thrilled the meal will showcase the students’ swine production and look forward to what other ideas may be generated.”
The tour, meal and forum are steps leading to the creation of a Weakley County Farm to School Action Plan focused on Farm to School activities throughout the school district. The LFN will coordinate activities in collaboration with the Weakley County School System and stakeholders. The plan is scheduled to be completed by April 2021. LFN received a $49,000 grant to lead in the formulation of the plan.
Nationally, the farm-to-school focus ranges from taste tests in the cafeteria and nutrition education activities in the classroom, to farm visits and school garden harvest parties.
In Weakley County, organizers can build on the well-established foundation that Shanklin and subsequent farm managers have built as the farm now includes swine and bovine production, row crops and hay. Four barns are devoted to raising hogs, one barn is for storage, one is for horse and cattle and two grain bins hold corn which is the basis for the feed prepared on the farm for the program. Currently, half and whole hogs are sold to the public and delivered to a local processing plants for custom processing.
The FFA Alumni Association in Dresden purchased 10 heifers and the students are now also raising and finishing beef calves completing the first year of selling freezer beef to the public. Plans are underway to convert existing shop space into a state-of-the-art lab for Veterinary Science and Small Animal Care classes currently taught by Jason Kemp. In addition to the new vet science lab, plans are to designate a portion of the lab for artificial insemination processing to produce higher fertilization rates and increase production. A meats lab and processing plant is under consideration for the future.
Kemp serves as an ag teacher/FFA advisor at the school in addition to serving as the farm manager supervising the fulltime work of teacher assistant/farmhand Jonathan Smartt. Jonathan Holden is a DHS ag teacher who utilizes the hands-on learning opportunities through Ag Science, Ag Mechanics, Greenhouse and Landscape Management with his students and serves as the other school FFA advisor.
“We are more than sows, cows and plows at the Weakley County School Livestock Production facility,” noted Kemp. “As new innovations continue to shape our future in agriculture today, so shall we strive to meet needs of the ever-changing agricultural demand.”
Along with sausage from the onsite farm, the menu for the Farm-to-School event includes biscuits and gravy from Simply Southern; breakfast potatoes prepared with items from Jill Magness Farms; Richard Turnbow, Hidden Hill Farm, and Barefoot Garden; scrambled eggs from Danna Stafford, hydroponically grown mixed greens salad from Blackberry Pond Farm; tomatoes and cucumbers from Turnbow Family Farm; Dixie Chile Ranch apples; homemade jams and local honey; fried pies from Oma’s Country Kitchen.
Written by Karen Campbell
Weakley County Schools