Planting an education for Coffee County
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Georgia’s climate lends itself to the cultivation of numerous crops and most recently, growing Satsuma Citrus trees along with the other cash crops Georgia can produce. With the diverse nature of the crops we grow, commercial growers and home gardeners can’t jeopardize a crop to figure out what works and potentially lose an entire crop. With the assistance of R.W. Griffin Industries LLC, the Coffee County Young Farmers program has developed test and educational plots consisting of three varieties of satsumas, (Owari, Brown Select, and Miho), blueberries (Rabbiteye: Ochlockonee & Southern Highbush: Farthing and Suziblue), muscadine grapes (Pam, Isom, Darlene and Supreme) and blackberries (Triple Crown and Ouachita).
The goal of this project is to aid commercial and backyard producers in production practices and techniques related to each of these cultivars, as well as to teach students enrolled in agriculture education classes the concept of production agriculture. Coffee County Young Farmer Advisor Spencer Highsmith stated, “I have seen more people start a backyard operation, but few have the general knowledge of how to properly grow and maintain these crops. This project will help bridge that educational gap for everyone.” This feat will be accomplished through a variety of test plots and hands-on Young Farmer classes and programs that will cover topics such as fertilization, pruning, irrigation management, and harvesting.
Joshua Rogers, horticulture teacher at Coffee High School, agrees these topics are important to developing student interest in agriculture. Rogers says, “Education about agriculture must start at an early age, while their (students’) minds are still moldable and are open to new ideas and concepts. That is why I want students involved. I want them to take part in their learning, see how their food is actually grown and even try a fruit they may have once deemed “nasty.” There is something about eating a berry or grape fresh off the vine. That’s what I want students to experience.”
During the spring semester, students took part in prepping the soil, planting the berries, grapes, and citrus trees and mulching. Highsmith says of student work, “When working with students anything is possible, and we managed to only plant two plants still in pots in the ground. I guess the students thought we could have a berry plant that bore blackberries on one vine and pots on the other,” he chuckles. An environmental science class collaborated with Highsmith’s class and assisted in the installation of drip irrigation systems to minimize water use but maximize growth to each variety after discussing the importance of water conservation. “It’s one thing for students to learn about water conservation sitting in a classroom, but for them to take part and learn through hands-on activities, that takes learning to a whole new level.” states Highsmith.
Students are just now beginning to start harvesting the highbush varieties of blueberries, and they ask daily about checking on the plants, partially because they want to eat them. It’s good to see students involved and taking interest in where their food, fiber, and shelter come from. “In years to come we hope to be able to supplement the Coffee County School Nutrition program by supplying fresh school-grown fruits to the students in Coffee County,” states Highsmith.
The Coffee County Young Farmer Program can't thank R.W. Griffin Industries, LLC enough for supporting and sponsoring the educational plots. R.W. Griffin Industries, LLC was named the Ag Business of the Year for Coffee County at the Coffee County Young Farmer Banquet on May 6 for their support of this project.
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