In late spring, Timothy Bradley and fellow Chilton County FFA members eagerly volunteered to transform an old hayfield into a thriving produce farm.
“Out here, we’re learning how to do hard work and how to have fun while working,” said Bradley, a freshman at Maplesville High School. “Farming is harder work than what they say it is in school.”
Bradley is one of more than 40 Chilton County FFA members who will work throughout the year to plant, harvest, market and sell produce from a farm off County Road 37. The students are raising cantaloupes, watermelon, tomatoes, sweet corn and purple hull peas, along with field corn and soybeans.
It’s part of the Chilton County Joint Agriscience Farm, an effort among FFA groups at Chilton County, Isabella, Maplesville and Thorsby high schools.
While produce sales will fund trips to FFA state and national conventions, Isabella agriscience teacher Landon Lowery said true dividends will come from lessons learned in the field.
“This farm will raise money, but it’s also going to help our kids and communities,” said Lowery, who is Chilton County Young Farmers chairman. “We can teach all day long about production agriculture, but now the students are actually experiencing production agriculture.”
The project received national recognition, winning a $10,000 grant from Opal Apples for farm equipment. Lowery said the farm has also created a stir locally.
“This ballooned a lot quicker than we thought it would,” he said. “Although we never formally asked for help, Chilton County Farmers Federation members really stepped up, allowing us to borrow equipment to prepare the land and even volunteering to show students about planting and harvesting.”
While school gardens and raised beds are gaining in popularity, the 30-acre farm in Chilton County provides students a different perspective, focusing on large-scale fruit and vegetable production. Work has required the use of tractors, discs and a plastic mulch-laying machine.
Students also gained experience installing a drip irrigation system, laying the tubing with the plastic mulch and connecting valves and pipes.
FFA student Price Walker said he worked on relatives’ farms before getting involved in the project, but now has greater knowledge about growing food.
“I had no idea how to set up plastic-covered beds,” said Walker, a junior at Chilton County High School. “The covered beds hold water a lot better and are good at keeping pests out. I’ve learned that the plastic benefits the plant a lot more than if it was just out here on the bare soil.”
Marlon Harton, Walker’s FFA adviser, said he believes this project will get his students interested in farming, whether they decide to raise livestock and crops or simply grow vegetables in their backyards.
“Hopefully they are getting a better appreciation of everything that goes into agriculture,” Harton said. “Affordable food and having access to whatever you want to eat — that’s all made possible by things like what we see at this farm, just on a larger scale.”
Along with raising crops, students are learning about supply and demand by marketing their products. For Lowery, that’s an important step.
“Sometimes growing can be the easy part, and selling the product may be the hard part,” Lowery said. “You have to grow something people want.”
For details on purchasing produce from the Chilton County Joint Agriscience Farm, contact Lowery at (205) 389-0545 or like the Isabella FFA Facebook page.