POINT PLEASANT — Nearly $17,000 in grants have been awarded to vocational agriculture students at the Mason County Career Center and Wahama High School to advance their futures as farmers.
Six students were given sums between $1,500 and $5,000 for “starter farms,” to buy anything from vegetables to meat goats, pigs, and more.
The funds came from the West Virginia Farm to School Community Development Group’s “Forward Fund” project. In its inaugural year, the project is designed as a jumpstart for emerging agripreneurs who have demonstrated interest, but are not able to start a business of their own for various reasons.
The idea behind the program, according to Sam Nibert, agriculture instructor at the career center, is for the students to purchase and breed their animals, then pay at least one of them forward, returning them to the development group to keep the program going.
Students receiving the grants were Wahama sophomores Ty White and Chris Thomas, who were each granted $5,000 for pigs and heifers, respectively. Career center students awarded funds were freshman Kevin Jones, $1,800 for meat goats; freshman Michael King, $1,500 for vegetables; junior Brianna Haga, $1,800 for sheep; and senior Lucas Diehl, $1,800 for meat goats. The money will purchase two heifers for Thomas, five or more pigs for White, and up to six sheep or goats for Haga, Jones, and Diehl. King said most of his money will go to grow potatoes.
The Wahama students are taught by instructor Timothy Kidwell. He said this is the first year vocational agriculture classes have returned to Wahama since 1973, when the classes moved to the career center. Now, the Wahama students have the opportunity to take their first two years of classes at the Bend Area school before moving to the career center for more advanced sessions.
Nibert said the program is very structured, with participants agreeing to care for the livestock using good management practices. The students will breed, feed, water, and provide veterinary checks for their animals. Nibert and Kidwell will provide technical assistance, as well as serve as mentors.
Most of the students chosen have shown animals at the Mason County Fair, including Diehl, who has exhibited animals for the past five years. As a two-year member of FFA, Diehl said the program is not only allowing him to buy an animal much sooner than in previous years, but is also allowing him to start breeding the goats.
Diehl said as a long-time fair exhibitor, he, like most other students who sell their livestock at auction, sets some of the money back to buy an animal for the next year. Not having to do that as a senior will enable him to focus more on his future plans as an advanced maintenance technician. He added farming will always be a sideline passion that he will continue.
In addition to the students, Leon farmer Russell Kidwell was also chosen as a recipient of the grant money, under the “emerging adult farmers” division. Under the guidelines, the applicant had to be 18 years or older who desired to begin commercially based agriculture, or who has been commercially farming less than five years with annual sales less than $5,000.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at [email protected]