When agriculture education teacher and FFA Advisor Mary Hardesty came on the scene during the 2014-2015 school year at Clark County High School — the ag education team, Clark County Farm Bureau, and Clermont Farm already had a strong partnership in place — Hardesty just took it to the next level in passion.
What started as a feeder pig venture has now morphed into a complete farrow to finish project at the historic Clermont Farm. A 360-acre research and training site in history, historic preservation, and agriculture, Clermont Farm is owned by the Department of Historic Resources of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Through partnerships with the Clarke County Public Schools and Farm Bureau, Clermont Farm supports agricultural education as a “lab” facility.
When Hardesty came on board she joined Clermont Farm Manager Tait Golightly to take the pig program from just feeding and watering pigs to mimicking a full-scale pig production unit.
“With this project we were able to provide experiences outside of just the responsibility of raising pigs,” Hardesty said. “Students were able to assist in building the facilities needed to keep the sow, develop a feed ration for the sow for both gestation and lactation, and then assist in farrowing and processing of the piglets.”
During their daily class block the students helped prepare facilities and picked up feeding shifts, but the class was also required to do farrowing checks, give iron injections, perform castrations, and clip needle teeth on the piglets.
“The goal of this project was to present the students with opportunities to allow for them to learn how to raise pigs in a way that they could go out on their own and replicate if they chose to,” Hardesty said.
And the students loved it.
“Not only were we outside most of our class blocks, but who doesn’t love adorable piglets,” Hardesty said.
Hardesty also had four students (one of which was directly involved in the project) who have taken a pig to show at this year’s county fair.
“They have never shown pigs before, but because of the project they have decided to do it this year,” Hardesty said.
And the kicker? Neither Hardesty or Golightly have farrowed pigs before … only learning about it when they were in school.
“So it was a learning curve for us as well, but again we are truly blessed with the support system we have from Farm Bureau as well as our Extension agents,” Hardesty said. “We also have an awesome administrator team — our principal came out the day after the pigs were farrowed to see them, she was just as excited as the kids were — and School Board that supports our ag department and programs. Our superintendent also came out to see the piglets shortly after they were born.”
Now the pig project has expanded into other livestock production areas on the Clermont Farm for students. From vaccinating sheep and cattle to preg- checking, lambing, and bottle raising, the 150 Clarke County High School ag education students truly have a hands-on learning opportunity at the Farm.
For Clarke County’s 65 FFA members, that excitement for ag has spilled over into their Virginia chapter. The team is looking forward to attending the state FFA convention in June, as last year several teams placed in competitions, including the Dairy Eval team placing 2nd and then going on to the Big E where they took 4th.
Hardesty encourages other chapters to consider organizing a “working farm” partnership in their communities.
“Absolutely, it is an amazing learning opportunity. We are not treating it as a fundraiser even though we are selling the pigs and products, we are hoping to break even to cover costs and any profit will be put back in to the program for improvements,” Hardesty said. “This is a great way to get students excited about ag who may not be … our whole school knew about the baby pigs and wanted to know what class they could take to come play with the baby pigs.”