A new agriculture science class inspires 6th graders to go rural as they learn to care for livestock and garden in their Tift County, Georgia, class.
TIFTON, Georgia--He got in the car and said, “Here, Mama, hold this while I put on my seatbelt.” I absentmindedly held out my hand and instantly regretted it.
It was fuzzy and warm. It had claws. It filled up my entire hand. It was a chicken.
A chicken? A CHICKEN!!!!
I was speechless for a few nanoseconds (which never happens to me) until I stammered, “Wha …? Wha ... ! WHY ARE YOU BRINGING HOME A CHICKEN?!?!?!?!”
He calmly replied, “It’s chicken day.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love chickens. I grew up on a small family farm and have had chickens as an adult. Just not … surprise chickens. Liam quickly reminded me that I had actually given him permission to bring home a freshly-hatched chick from his Ag class, but I thought “chicken day” would come with a little advance warning. Gotta love the way a 12-year old boy’s memory works.
So after an emergency trip to our local Tractor Supply store, “Chicken Little” came home to join his rabbit-brother, Beaver. Beaver wasn’t a surprise, but was a product of Liam’s Ag class as well. The brothers spent about two weeks together in Liam’s room until we could scramble together a pen outside.
How did we end up with a mini-petting zoo at our house? All because of Mr. Jimmy Cargle, Agriculture Science teacher at J.T. Reddick Elementary School in Tifton, Georgia.
This is the first year Agriculture Science classes have been offered at J.T. Reddick. Their Ag program is one of only a handful of 6th grade programs in the state of Georgia.
“There were 24 new Ag programs started this year throughout the state, and that means 24 new teaching positions,” Mr. Cargle explains. His 9-week class covers areas of study such as animal and plant sciences, the history of agriculture and the importance of agriculture in Georgia. The students also do individual, supervised, agricultural experiment projects on areas they find particularly interesting.
|The author's son, Liam, left, with Ag Science class teacher Jimmy Cargle.|
Most of the 360 students who will come through his class this year live in town and have never been exposed to agriculture. Cargle’s class is introducing them to a whole new world they never knew existed - inspiring them to go rural. One of the students, Toby, says that through agriculture science class she’s learned that Georgia is the #3 state for growing peaches, but it is the top producer for peanuts. She’s also learned a lot about the history of Georgia agriculture. Another student, Kevin, says his favorite thing about the class so far is the celosia flower he is planting as a Mother’s Day gift for his mother. He’s also really excited about learning to make hoe cakes, which is cornbread that is literally baked on a garden hoe over an open fire.
Many of the students who take agriculture science classes are also members of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) club. Out of 354 FFA chapters in the state of Georgia, Tift County ranks an impressive #6. FFA members and agriculture students from Tift County High School built a greenhouse at Liam’s school and it has really come in handy with their plant science lessons.
“Students who take agriculture classes do better in their math and science classes,” says Cargle, “and they learn why certain things apply in certain situations. It also provides a positive diversion for their minds. When kids get together, they’re going to be talking about something, so this gives them something good to talk about. They’re talking about what they’re planting in their home gardens or what’s going on with their show animals.”
J.T. Reddick will hold its first rabbit show on the last day of school. About 20 students bought show rabbits through Mr. Cargle’s class and he has been a constant source of information and encouragement for the new owners.
Liam has always loved the outdoors, always loved hunting and fishing and exploring the woods around our house. But now, thanks to Mr. Cargle’s influence, he has a new-found love and respect for agriculture. When he comes home from school, instead of plopping down in front of his tv or playing video games, he’s outside taking care of his animals. He’s helping me with our little backyard garden and is excited about watching the seeds he planted pop up through the dirt that he turned and fertilized. He’s talking about getting more rabbits to go along with our collection of chickens, which now totals four. He’s even started hinting around about wanting to raise goats like his Poppie. I think we need to build a barn.
I wonder if they offer a construction class at his school?
All photos by Jayne Gray.