LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Agriculture programs across Kentucky have long served as a hands-on way for students to learn subjects that have strong technical or science-based components. Even in a year where hands-on learning seemed impossible because of pandemic restrictions, agriculture teachers found creative ways to keep their students engaged and learning.
The Kentucky FFA Foundation exists to support those teachers and programs. One way they do that is by awarding grants each year to help them purchase new equipment, improve existing facilities, and put together learning experiences that help students gain skills for whatever path they take after graduation.
This year, the Foundation awarded eight Ag Achiever grants, in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 each, and two $10,000 Ag Innovation grants to programs from across the Commonwealth. As students have slowly been able to come back to in-person learning, some are finding updated facilities and technology waiting to be tried out, thanks to these grants.
“One of the many things that makes Ag Ed & FFA so special is that it’s all about learning by doing,” said Sheldon McKinney, executive director of the Kentucky FFA Foundation. “Ag Innovation and Ag Achiever grants provide funds to make sure local programs have the best, most innovative technology to engage their students.”
The eight programs that received Ag Achiever grants are implementing a wide variety of projects, including updates to existing animal science and agricultural mechanics labs, establishing school gardens, purchasing CNC plasma and routing machines, and even starting a flock of sheep.
Those schools are Apollo High School, Boyle County Middle School, Franklin-Simpson High School, Greenup County High School, Muhlenberg County High School, Owen County High School, Bondurant Middle School, and South Warren High School.
The two $10,000 Ag Innovation grants were awarded to the agriculture programs at Carlisle County High School and George Rogers Clark High School in Clark County.
In Carlisle County, agriculture teacher Mercedes Smith is using the grant to outfit her ag shop with a CNC plasma cutter and CNC wood cutting machine, plus the training modules, software, and computers needed to run them.
She said that her program’s Agriculture Power, Structures and Technical Systems pathway is one of the most appealing to students, but her shop has been in need of some major upgrades.
“There’s a real drive here for engineering, welding – all things trade,” said Smith. “There’s a need for that locally. When you consider the opportunity for jobs and the fact that we have students who really want to improve their skills, we wanted to supply the tools necessary to give them that experience.”
At George Rogers Clark, agriculture teacher Terra Pigg applied for the Ag Innovation grant to help with construction of an animal science facility that will house a rotation of livestock. The idea is that students in the GRC agriculture program will get to experience a range of different animals during their high school careers.
“Looking at our student dynamic, we have seen a shift over the past several years,” said Pigg. “Although we still have kids who come from farms, most do not. I know they may never go into agriculture as a career, but they’ll all be consumers. I think it’s really important that they get to see firsthand how their food is raised.”
Funds for the Foundation’s Ag Achievers grants come from the voluntary $10 donation farm license plate holders give when they renew their tags, as well as from sponsor Universal Leaf. Funds for the Ag Innovation grants are raised at the Foundation’s annual Blue & Gold Gala.
“We know that donors love making an impact locally, so we are focused on funding projects at the local level, and that includes Ag Innovation and Ag Achiever grants,” said McKinney. “We ask ourselves what projects we can fund that will change the scope of what the program can offer for generations. Hundreds of students a day pass through agricultural education classrooms and every year, you get new students, so the impact of these grants is tremendous.”
The Kentucky FFA Foundation cultivates partnerships which support the FFA vision to grow leaders, build communities, and strengthen agriculture. Kentucky FFA Foundation initiatives impact more than 14,000 FFA members in 158 FFA chapters across Kentucky.
— Kentucky FFA Foundation, Inc.
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