Two counties at different ends of the road in building agricultural centers have come to know two things: it’s hard work, and it’s worth it.
The journey started 20 years ago for Calhoun County when an ag teacher joined a fellow educator in an neighboring county to organize lamb shows. They later added shows for pigs, heifers and other animals.
After using private barns for the shows, the Calhoun County Commission allowed youth to show in a maintenance barn for several years before that space was converted to a facility for the Pleasant Valley High School FFA.
“A couple of years ago the county dedicated an old utility building in Leatherwood as a show ground,” Calhoun County Farmers Federation President Wendell Wilson said. “With help from a group of parents, volunteers and students, we’ve turned that old maintenance building into a nice ag facility.”
Wilson said volunteers rewired and painted the facility while the Calhoun County Farmers Federation donated money for animal pens and wash areas.
Wilson said while he knows not everyone who is in FFA or attends a show will become a farmer, the exposure is something that will pay dividends in many ways.
“Our goal isn’t to make farmers out of every child but to educate them about agriculture,” he said. “One of these days they’re going to grow up to become voters, and they can be educated voters by knowing what it takes to raise and care for an animal.”
While Calhoun County has reached a high point in its quest to build an ag center, Randolph County Farmers Federation President Jimmy Fetner said his county’s mission to build an ag center began five years ago. The Randolph County group recently purchased a facility near Wedowee where its first youth livestock show was held in October.
Fetner said the ag center project is about 40 percent complete, but it’s already showing positive results after the first show.
“Visitors stayed in our motels, bought gas and ate at our restaurants,” he said. “The guy who owns the corner store near to this facility said he saw a 20 percent increase in his business.”
Fetner said he hopes to establish an annual county fair, but acknowledged there’s still a lot of hard work to be done.
“I imagine by the time this complex is finished it will have taken 20 years,” he said — the same amount of time it took Federation leaders in Calhoun County to make their dream a reality.
For students like Whitney Herren, a 12-year old 7th grader at Woodland High School in Randolph County, the project is already a success. She said she was happy to finally show in her home county and looks forward to seeing agricultural activities expand there.
“I showed pigs here last week,” Herren said following a show last fall. “I really liked it, and hopefully we can have a fair and some bull riding events in the future.”
Fetner said the economic advantages are valuable, but the lasting impact on the community is priceless.
“This is all for the kids,” he said. “Anything for kids or a non-profit we don’t charge them to use the center. A lot of us are living out dreams that we had when we were kids because we couldn’t afford to show in Birmingham or Montgomery.”