By Benjamin Cohn
Weaverville – North Buncombe showcased its agricultural prowess last week at the school’s seventh annual Agriculture Appreciation Day. Justin Gillespie, one of two agriculture instructors at the school, explained some of the history surrounding the event.
“These are the high school students who are putting on and organizing and presenting the Agriculture Awareness Day,” Gillespie said proudly. “I’m the ag [agriculture] teacher here at North Buncombe High School.” The event comes on the heels of several wins at the recent Mountain State Fair.
Gillespie and Dave Penland are the school’s “agriculture education teachers and FFA (Future Farmers of America) advisors,” Gillespie noted. The organization changed its name 30 years ago in an effort to “be more inclusive, to break that stereotype that [everyone in FFA is a production farmer].” The group’s official name is the National FFA Organization.
“Everything we still do is 100 percent agriculture-based,” Gillespie said. “We’re very proud of that. There are so many different facets of agriculture that people don’t realize. From soil scientists to natural resource management.”
North Buncombe High is fortunate to be able to offer specialized agricultural courses not available in other regions of the state. “We teach animal science, equine science, agriculture production and horticulture,” Gillespie revealed. The Tribune inquired about the second grade students being bussed in from around North Buncombe for Agriculture Appreciation Day.
“About seven years ago when we started teaching here at the high school, I and the FFA officer at that time wanted to do something for our community to promote agriculture,” Gillespie said. “We’re very proud of agriculture, and we want everyone to understand how important agriculture is to everyone.” This pride, he said, led to the idea of an agriculture awareness day.
He went on to say, “Over the span of the last several years, my high school students liked working with second graders. They seem to be more attentive, more interested. I think it’s an age group that they can present, they can lead. They deal well with [them].”
Gillespie explained his motivation for organizing the school’s yearly Agriculture Awareness Day. “Another reason we do [it] is because we want the experience it provides for our high school students. Today, 99 percent of what’s going on [in the student participation program] has been done by high school students. From choosing dates, to planning stations that were set up, to nailing down presenters, setting up the rotation schedules.”
Back in his classroom, Gillespie highlighted those he felt were the strongest students in his class for a brief interview: Silver Hyatt, Lauren Parris, Clara Hale, Audrey Byrd, Sarah Reavis and Tanner Kilby.
Hale, the group’s most outgoing and talkative member, said she enjoys working with second graders more than “working with older kids. Past second grade you get the kids who already made up their mind, whether they want to do agricultural stuff or not.” Hale said that second graders are “still interested and care about what you have to say. They’re really open to learning, not too far gone like the eighth graders are.”
A large part of the day’s event was devoted to showing off students’ summer projects. The twist here is that their projects are alive.
“With livestock projects, what we do is we get them, and we train them for shows,” Hale said.
Parris, another experienced agriculture student, clarified further. “We’ve got different types of projects,” she said. “Generally, they’re called SAEs, supervised agricultural experiences. We go online, and we log all our hours and such.” Parris’s projects included cattle and a goat. The Tribune asked her where students get baby animals to raise in the first place.
“When I was in seventh grade, I received the heifer chain,” Parris explained. “What that is, is you get a heifer. It’s just been weaned, and you raise it and you show it. Whenever it’s time to breed it and when it calves, its very first calf you give back to the heifer chain and that’s going to continue that chain.”