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South Boston News
The 165-acre Randolph-Henry ‘farm lab’ / February 22, 2017
Students involved in the FFA program at Randolph-Henry High School in Charlotte County are on a pathway to a future career, long before they graduate. They are part of a program that operates a 165-acre farm that prepares students for a broad range of careers in horticulture, landscaping, agriculture, aquaculture, mechanics, culinary arts and related professions.

The agriculture program has a long tradition at Randolph-Henry, which traditionally has upwards of 50 students involved each year in the program that offers up to 19 college credits in agricultural business.

After speaking with Jim Pugh, one of three agriculture teachers at Randolph-Henry, members of Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors say they would like to begin a similar program here.

The farm would be part of the new campus for the consolidated high school/middle school complex the county is preparing to build. Supporting the initiative are Gary Cifers, school division CTE coordinator and ag teachers at Park View and Bluestone.

Even if county students decide to pursue careers outside of agriculture, having access to a program like the one offered in Charlotte County will “help our students become better stewards of the environment,” said supervisor's vice chairman Gregg Gordon.

Gordon is owner of Aaron’s Creek Farms, a wholesale plant nursery in Buffalo Junction that supplies bedding plants, plugs and pots to retailers throughout the United States.

The three teachers involved with the Randolph-Henry farm program each has a different area of expertise. Pugh oversees farm operations, or, as he calls it, “the land lab,” and teaches equine science. Bruce Cumbie teaches horticulture, greenhouse management and landscaping, and David Richmond is in charge of the ag machinery program.

Pugh’s “land lab” is used to raise sweet corn, and it features an aquaculture facility, hay barn, horse barn, cattle facility, and cattle handling facility, all of which are built and maintained by R-H students.

The students market their sweet corn at the Southside produce auction and sell it locally.

They also operate a petting zoo, offer cow-milking demonstrations, and teach lawn mower and tractor safety for the many students and visitors that stop by the farm.

Pugh said, “There are a lot of equine programs taught across the state, but only four including the one at Randolph-Henry actually breeds and raises horses as part of the program. Students work with the horses on a daily basis.

“We foal out a mare about every three years. As part of working with the horses and cattle, students learn the skeletal, digestive and respiratory systems of these animals,” said Pugh.

Through the apiary program, students tend to bees, extract honey from the hives, which they sell locally, and use the bees wax to make products like lip balm.

Their beef cattle operation teaches the students about rotational grazing and Beef Quality Assurance procedures — protocols for giving vaccines, where the cattle gets the injections, when to administer shots before slaughter, and when and how to worm the cattle.

They even have an aquaculture facility — a pond in which they raise catfish. It is a traditional irrigation pond with a net on the floor of the pond. The students feed the fish over the top of the net. When they want fish, they pull up the net, catch and fillet the fish and sell the fillets.

Everything they do or grow is with an end product in mind, Pugh explained, and the proceeds from the sale of their products — which include bedding plants, preserves, honey, beef, catfish and flowers — support the farm operations.

Pugh credited much of the program’s success to the support Charlotte County has received from Farm Bureau, Virginia Tech and partners in the community.

The Randolph-Henry farm began as a cattle farm in the 1950s. In the 1960s it was timbered. Now they are returning the land to pasture. The farm as it now exists began in the 1990s when then-superintendent of schools Paul Stapleton convinced a local farmer to help bring back the cattle farm that once was at the site.

After hearing the presentation, Supervisor David Brankley said, “We need to get behind a program like this and all step up to the plate, in order to bring to Mecklenburg what the students have in Charlotte County.”

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County will screw the kids by building one school but buy a farm that will be a big drain on resources? Where has common sense gone?

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