Students at Carroll County, Giles, Grayson County, Holston, and Randolph-Henry high schools are learning how to grow and market alternative agriculture crops through an innovative grant program offered by the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

With assistance from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Community Viability Endowment, a total of $30,000 in grants — ranging from $3,000 to $9,000 each — was awarded to five schools in the Appalachian and Southside areas of Virginia this spring.

“We anticipate that students who participate in the local entrepreneurial projects will become more aware of the constantly changing food production opportunities that can exist or be developed in local communities. We would also like students to recognize that there are a diverse number of career opportunities for them in the agriculture industry throughout the commonwealth,” said Donna Moore, assistant professor of agricultural and extension education. “It is anticipated that these projects will also showcase agricultural business opportunities for others who are seeking ideas to develop or expand their income from local food production efforts.”

The grants were provided to high school agriculture programs to encourage students to raise alternative crops. The definition of “alternative” for the grant is the inclusion of a crop or livestock animal that is not currently grown or raised in the local school district.

The projects are being designed and led by students, who will use the projects for their individual, supervised, agriculture-experience programs. The research conducted will be entered in the National FFA Agriscience Program. 

Faculty and students in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education will work with the schools throughout the implementation of the projects. In addition to providing local support, department members will work with teachers at each school to develop materials for distribution to others, allowing people to implement these projects in other areas.

The following is a brief synopsis of the plans for each location.

Carroll County – Students and teachers will build two high-tunnel greenhouses — one purchased with the grant and the other with matching funds from the school district — to be used for raspberry production. Students will research the different growing procedures practiced in the tunnels. Reza Rafie, Extension horticulture specialist at Virginia State University, is providing raspberry plants and irrigation supplies. Students plan to market the harvested raspberries at the Hillsville Farmers Market. The potential exists to use the local processing facility to develop after-market raspberries.

Giles – Teachers and students will raise greenhouse tomatoes in a new greenhouse. The tomatoes will be available prior to the existing growing season and will be sold in Pearisburg before local tomatoes come to market. Students will evaluate various container systems and different aspects of care for the greenhouse tomatoes.

Grayson County – Students and teachers plan to produce specialty potatoes in raised beds, using the grant funds to purchase potatoes and construction materials. Students will compare growth of potatoes grown in raised beds constructed with a variety of materials. They will also collaborate with a local farmer to study the growth of potatoes grown in raised beds versus potatoes grown directly in the soil. Harvested potatoes will be marketed locally in Independence and sold at the farmers market in Hillsville.

Holston – Students and teachers, along with the Washington County Maintenance Department, are installing a fillet station room next to their existing tilapia operation. The grant, along with county matching funds, will allow the school to double its current operation. With this installation, the students expect to sell fresh fish to the general public in the Damascus area.

Randolph-Henry – Students and teachers will use a high-tunnel greenhouse for raspberry production. The agricultural mechanics program at the high school will construct the greenhouse, which was previously used by a community farmer for tobacco production. Rafie, Extension horticulture specialist at Virginia State University, is providing raspberry plants and irrigation supplies. The greenhouse will be located on the school farm — close to an existing pond for irrigation — that can serve as a test plot for raspberry production. Students will be involved with the care, research, and harvesting of the berries, which will be marketed in the Charlotte Courthouse area.



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