A $50,000 Tobacco Trust Fund grant recently awarded to Forsyth Tech could help spur the creation of the next generation in Stokes County’s agriculture industry.
The funds will be used to construct a hoop house, a fenced area and some raised beds at the new Forsyth Tech facility in the Meadows community.
“It will allow us to bring in some livestock for different classes and training,” said Forsyth Tech’s Sally Elliott. “It will also allow us to offer some training her in agriculture.”
But the training space Elliott plans to create in Meadows is the just the start of a longer and larger plan to offer a multi-tiered approach to helping farmers in the area.
“We are going to break it out in to three groups,” she said. “We will have prospective farmers, current farmers and then young people who are are juniors or seniors in high school. We are working with Stokes County Schools so we can do some career pathways that will allow them to start some classes in high school and then when they graduate finish up here.”
Forsyth Tech Stokes County Center Director of Operations Ann Watts said the Forsyth Tech is also currently working on a larger $300,000 grant application from the USDA to create a regional approach to providing the classes farmers need to be successful in today’s world.
“It is designed to get more students into the pipeline to careers related to agriculture,” she said. “It could be production, or farming, or soil science, or environmental science. It could be forestry people or cooperative extension agents. We want to look at a regional approach and we are inviting fellow rural counties like Surry and Rockingham to join us in the grant application.
“The goal is for these community colleges to work with their local schools and communities to develop that pipeline,” she added, noting that each of the regional community colleges already have specialty programs, like viticulture, which could benefit the entire region.
Watts said Forsyth Tech and Rockingham had already applied for a $25,000 planing grant for the program that was not awarded to them.
“But we have decided, since our college president is very committed to looking at the agriculture pipeline, to use the money set aside as matching funds for that grant to be channeled to the submission of this larger grant,” said Watts. “Our goal is to make it a regional effort and develop very strong regional pipelines. Every community college and every high school will hopefully participate. We can look at the pieces everybody already has and grow those pieces.”
In the meantime, Elliott plans to do everything she can to grow the agriculture program in Stokes County.
“We value agriculture,” she said. “We think it is important to continue that in this county and support the farmers. We are going to do everything we can to provide the training for them so they don’t have to go off to N.C. State or leave Stokes County to get the education they need to farm.
“We also hope that students will see that farming is not just all about being out in the dirt,” she added. “There are lots of other careers around agriculture that don’t necessarily put you outside. It is not your grandfather’s farming anymore. There are lots of other pieces to that that they can explore.”
Elliott said she wants the program to provide what the farmers in St0kes County need.
“We don’t want to just put out a lot of classes,” she said. “We are working with the Stokes Extension and the Ag teachers at the high schools and our horticulture program on the main campus.
“We know we have some folks who have moved to the county who are not from here and may have just bought a large acreage and want to grow something or raise animals but are still in the planing stages,” said Elliott. “The Cooperative Extension has their farm school and we would like to offer the next step from that.”
But Elliott said she needs input form local farmers on what kinds of classes are offered.
“We want to have a big initial class or workshop that has a lot of draw and get our farmers in here and survey them as to what kinds of classes they are interested in,” she said. “I want to pick their brains. We are hoping to have that class sometime this winter and let what I learn form them drive our planing and hopefully by the spring or summer we can start offering classes and workshops. We will have these workshops and training running before the new building is finished.
“If people have ideas, lease call me or email me,” she added, noting that she can be reached at 336-593-5402, Ext. 1101, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watts noted that she hopes Forsyth Tech can also offer business classes to help both local farmers and artisans.
“We can offer classes in marketing and financial planning,” said Watts. “We also hope to work with local artisans and help them to begin to think of themselves as entrepreneurs and start some businesses that way.”
“We are hoping we will be able to get the existing farmers to increase the amount of land that they farm on,” added Elliott. “I hope we can get them to sell more, and we hope to have more farmer’s markets around here and help them to grow.
“We are also going to focus on growing more for less,” she said, “being able to farm without having all of the upfront costs, so if you have a young person who wants to start a farm they don’t necessarily have to come up with $100,000 to buy all the equipment and land. We are going to try to put some programs in to teach them what they cans with what they have.”
She said the best part of the program, which is still very much in the planning stages, is that it will come with tuition assistance for local farmers.
“The Tobacco Trust Fund grant also helps with tuition,” she said. “If you were a farmer and wanted to come take one of our classes on marketing and that class costs $150, we could provide tuition assistance or pay for that class for you. We have $250 we can spend per student on tuition. that will be helpful for people who may want to take a class but may not be able to afford it.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.