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LCHS Agriculture Program Awarded $10,000 Grant

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The Kentucky FFA Foundation has selected the agriculture program at LaRue County High School in Hodgenville to be one of the first recipients of its newly created Agriculture Innovation grant. The funds will be used to create a processing facility where produce and fish harvested from the agriculture program’s aquaponics system can be prepared for the end consumer.

Aquaponics combines raising vegetables hydroponically with growing fish, both of which will be harvested for consumption. It’s a system of food production that has been around for quite some time and continues to gain popularity.

“As a traditional agriculturalist, it’s easy to get stuck in your ways sometimes,” said Chris Thomas, one of LaRue County’s two agriculture teachers. “But we always like to talk about local food, hands-on learning, year-round production – and this project puts all that into practice.”

LaRue County agriculture students are the real drivers behind the project. Thomas initially explored aquaponics as a teaching opportunity because he had one student who was extremely interested. As he learned more, he realized its potential as a teaching tool. The goal is to develop the aquaponics lab into a fully student-run, school-based enterprise. The facility will operate year-round, and students will be responsible for everything, including system maintenance, planting and harvesting the produce, and fish care and processing.

“It’s my job to figure out how in the world I can get these students motivated to get them educated, and this is a great way to do it,” said Thomas. “I always tell my students if they can dream it, and they’re willing to put in the work, I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure those dreams happen.”

“This will impact lots of our students,” said Misty Bivens, another agriculture teacher at LaRue County High School. “This is a way that students have really taken ownership.”   

This is the first year that the Kentucky FFA Foundation has offered Agriculture Innovation grants, but the intent is for this to become an annual program. The grant helps school-based agriculture programs in the state fund large-scale projects.

“We want to give a program an opportunity to really do something that could change the trajectory of a student’s experience,” said Sheldon McKinney, executive director of the Kentucky FFA Foundation.

“We’ve offered smaller grants for a long time, and those make a difference,” said McKinney. “But with these, we wanted to be able to go beyond meeting basic needs for a program. These grants are allowing us to say ‘what can move the needle for programs or students?”

Funds for the Agriculture Innovation grants are raised during the Kentucky FFA Foundation’s annual gala.

“Whether our supporters participate in the auctions that are part of the evening, or purchase gala tickets, they are coming together in a collective effort that is really making a difference,” said McKinney.

FFA Foundation Chairman Adam Hinton had some thoughts about why individuals and organizations are so willing to donate to funding these large-scale projects.

“As we go through life, we realize most big ideas need three things to happen; time, effort and money,” he said. “Through our work with FFA members and ag programs, we know they have some really creative ideas. Often they have the time and effort to be able to execute these ideas, and if they just had the necessary money, we believe something really special could happen.

“We see Ag Innovation grants as just that – the money to turn these fresh, inventive ideas into a reality. We hope these hands-on opportunities will lead to many future successes for these students and their FFA chapters.”

The Kentucky FFA Foundation cultivates partnerships which support the FFA vision to grow leaders, build communities, and strengthen agriculture. Kentucky FFA Foundation initiatives impact more than 14,500 FFA members in 154 FFA chapters across Kentucky.