Clover's future farmers get hands-on taste of agriculture

Phillip McAbee, left, and John Petty measure a cow at the Clover High School farm. The farm has been reopened after a roughly 20-year absence.
Phillip McAbee, left, and John Petty measure a cow at the Clover High School farm. The farm has been reopened after a roughly 20-year absence.

CLOVER -- Forrest Bigger never stared a cow in the eyes before this semester.

When he did, he was amazed.

"Ms. Bolin, would you look at those eyes!" he told his teacher excitedly as the cows were unloaded at a newly reopened farm at Clover High School.

Turns out, big cows have big eyes.

It's something Bigger, who grew up in town, would never have known had he not signed up for the agriculture class this year.

Providing experiences like this is exactly why agriculture teacher Carrie Bolin petitioned school officials to reopen the school farm that had been closed for about 20 years.

"It actually lets them have a real-life experience, versus just hearing about the theories in the class room," she said.

Principal Ron Wright said when he first came to the school in the 1970s, the farm operated with students growing crops and selling them at a produce stand. He's glad Bolin suggested it be reopened.

"I think it was a natural extension for us," he said.

There are many stables and farms in the area, and it's valuable for students to get hands-on experience, he said.

Bolin has done a great job teaching the classes, and the results are apparent by the number of students who sign up for them, Wright said.

"Her classes are all maxed out," Wright said. "Kids will gravitate toward quality programs."

The students even pitched in to make it a success. They fixed the barn that had fallen into disrepair and built a fence.

Senior B.J. Mitchelson said he took a previous agriculture class and didn't like it. But now, he loves the subject.

"Once she (Bolin) got here, she involved more students, so it was a lot more fun," he said.

Getting to actually work on projects in class has made it fun, Mitchelson said.

"It makes us look back at what we've done and accomplished," he said. "It gives us ownership."

Instead of sitting in a classroom with textbooks, each morning, the students trek to the barn behind the school to feed the animals.

There are Daisy and Elsie, young cows they've watched and weighed this semester, and two Boer goats with floppy ears named Pearl and Betsy.

In the classroom, students learned the anatomy of the animals and the types of food they eat. In the barn, the students learned about temperaments and how to feed and handle the livestock.

They know Elsie is the nice cow and likes when the students pet her. Daisy is a bit cranky and doesn't like the measuring tape.

The animals came from John Petty's farm. He's a 10th-grader in the class and president of Future Farmers of America. Although he's been showing cattle since age 9, Petty said the class has taught him a lot about the anatomy of animals that he didn't know before.

"I think it's a great opportunity," he said.

Lauren McGill, a 10th-grader, wants to farm when she finishes school, and this class is preparing her for that, she said.

"It teaches me a lot of what I need to know," she said.

Bolin has plans to expand the class. She wants to get a Great Pyrenees dog that's used to protect smaller animals, and next year, she hopes the cows will have calves students can learn to care for.

With farming on the decline nationally, this is a good way to get students thinking about farming, Bolin said.

"I think it makes them see the importance of it, and it sparks their interest," she said.