Ag Commissioner Visits County School Farm

Commissioner of Ag Hatcher Praises Weakley County Schools Production Farm
Posted on 10/13/2019
This is the image for the news article titled Commissioner of Ag Hatcher Praises Weakley County Schools Production Farm(DRESDEN) – Last Thursday in his “Ag Chat with Charlie” video brief that Tennessee’s Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Charlie Hatcher shares periodically on Twitter, Dresden FFA students stood in for his usual “co-anchor” grandson Hatcher. While a lack of rehearsal resulted in an on-air stumble on the signature tagline “Keep believing in agriculture,” the group rallied and ensured they made their mark on their guest who had already spent more than an hour touring the Weakley County Schools Livestock Production Farm, adjacent to Dresden High School.

“I’m so impressed with this whole bunch,” he told his social media audience. “We have never seen this level of cooperation between the county school system and the county mayor and the FFA advisor. It’s a wonderful thing that’s going on here and we’d like to see more of this in our county school systems.”

The invitation to visit the farm was extended via Twitter when staff realized Hatcher would be the keynote speaker at UT Martin for the Northwest Tennessee Food Processing and Agri-business Conference on October 10. After TN Department of Ag staffers Wendy Sneed and Colleen Coury took part in the recent kickoff of the Farm to School initiative, hosted at the farm, the invitation was repeated and the tour was set.

Having just told the conference audience in Martin of state ag priorities, Hatcher and Coury drove to Dresden where he saw connections to at least three: Ag Economic Development; Workforce Development, Education and Collaboration; and Healthy Living.

To ensure the Commissioner’s time was strategic and maximized, farm manager Jason Kemp and Weakley’s Career Technical Education director Lindsey Parham invited representatives from area collaborating businesses, university connections, and county officials to participate in a time of vision-casting and identification of challenges.

Communications director Karen Campbell facilitated the brief discussion based on the newly articulated vision: “Weakley County Schools Livestock Production Farm seeks to be the premiere high school agricultural complex that is both multi-disciplinary and multi-species. We are on a mission to serve the needs of our 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.”

Opportunities and challenges to this vision, as identified by the group, included funding for the facilities desired, increasing commitment with existing university and industry partners and expanding the number of partnerships, making the farm available to all students in the county and working around student schedules, and responding appropriately to the demands of working with multiple species.

Kemp and Parham elaborated on accomplishments to date at the farm -- notably an updated vaccination protocol based on the Tosh Farms model; matrix estrus synchronization; adjusted weaning dates; a change in feed from ground to pellets; and the launch of the Farm to School initiative that is currently supplying sausage for DHS.

They then shared a wish list consisting of items such as the farm supplying sausage for all Weakley County Schools in 2020, adding an on-site Animal Science Lab and semen collection and processing, utilizing artificial insemination of all sows, updating existing structures, and increasing local partnerships.
Weakley County School director Randy Frazier shared the School Board has also suggested the farm explore the possibility of raising all the food required for the livestock on the farm and digging a well to make the farm more self-sustaining.
Parham explained that the potential growth of the farm has implications beyond students interested in agriculture.

“Our vision is to build a harvest facility and store to enhance our students' experience in real world career skills in the areas of agriculture, business and marketing,” she noted. “This will allow for onsite Work Based Learning Placements and real work experience.”

Contributing to the information-sharing and collaboration were James Yoder and Courtney Davies of Yoder Brothers; former Ag Commissioner Terry Oliver; Jonathan Tosh of Tosh Farms; Phillip Smartt of UTM; Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum and Commissioner Eric Owen; Jimbo Davis, Dresden’s FFA Alumni President and farmer; Jeff Lannom of UT Extension; Kyle Parham, sales manager of Abernathy’s; DHS administrators Chuck West and Scott Killebrew and DHS teacher assistant/farmhand Jonathan Smartt and DHS faculty Jon Holden; School Board Chair Steve Vantrease and staff Trista Snider and Jeff Kelley.

When Hatcher arrived, he was briefed on the discussion and then the tour launched with students offering background at each of the stops. Sam Laws, Ben Ellis, Bennett Higgs, Travis Platt, Kyle Elam, Jessie Randolph, Parker Maxey. Morgan Richards, Erin Mallory, Paige Ganoe, Ashley Johnson, Brianna Williams, and Natalie Weidenbach covered the purpose of each of the existing barns and farmland with Kemp and Tosh offering background on what was needed for further production. Hatcher engaged with his guides for more than an hour before his schedule dictated that he had to move on.

Before departing the farm, Coury captured his comments and the students’ interaction on camera. The “Ag Chat with Charlie” can be viewed on Twitter @TNAgCommish.

He also enjoyed a moment behind the wheel of the UTV that Kyle Parham had arranged from Abernathy’s. Along with other participants, the Commissioner was gifted with a “farmer’s sack lunch” that included biscuits and sausage, processed by Yoder Brothers using the DHS farm harvest.

Parham and Kemp expressed appreciation for the community support that Hatcher praised throughout the tour and discussions. From the aerial view of the 65-acre farm made by Dr. Smartt with UTM’s drone to the participation of the Yoder and Tosh families in the ongoing development of the care and harvesting of the animals, the Commissioner repeatedly remarked on the rarity of such cooperation.

“It was a great honor for Commissioner Hatcher to take the extensive amount of time that he did from his busy schedule to visit our school-based livestock program,” Kemp shared after the Commissioner departed.

“Commissioner Hatcher listened to our vision and direction -- shared both by students and adults alike in our county -- and helped us to see tangible landmarks that will be attainable for our program’s future. Having Commissioner Hatcher’s support is very crucial to me as we embark on this new journey.”

Kemp then noted that not only did the Commissioner leave with a sample of the products and a t-shirt, but, a reminder of what the farm is ultimately all about. After noticing the posted standards that Kemp must follow on the farm to achieve academic requirements, Hatcher inquired if the standards were in fact met. Kemp eagerly showed him how with Hatcher readily identifying how the farm was indeed a model for interactive and integrated learning.

Hatcher took the standards with him with assurances that he and others would return.