story by Susan Lee photos by Sheila Scott
If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed. If in terms of ten years, plant trees. If in terms of 100 years, teach the people.
That’s a quote by Confucius and it seems to perfectly sum up last fall’s purchase of the 310-acre Honey Ridge Plantation by Effingham’s Board of Education.
The seeds for the county’s future have now been planted.
The school system bought Honey Ridge last fall with $1.2 million in education sales tax dollars. County residents were curious and intrigued from the start: more than 600 people showed up for the farm’s open house in May to enjoy hay ride tours and hear more about the plans for the property.
Todd Wall doesn’t seem surprised at the interest and support from the community. He grew up on a farm just across the Ogeechee River from Honey Ridge and was hired last year to direct the Young Farmer programs for the county and as Career Tech and Agriculture Education supervisor for Effingham County High School. Wall is now the program’s district coordinator, managing the career tech and agriculture programs at ECHS, South Effingham High School, and the Career Academy as well as the Young Farmers program and Honey Ridge Plantation.
“When I was first brought into the discussions about Honey Ridge and asked to help get the program off the ground, of course I said yes right away,” he said. “The farm will give students in the various career pathways the chance to get real life exposure. I can’t think of a better way to learn.”
The purchase of Honey Ridge just made sense. For Wall, for Effingham’s school board members, and for Superintendent Randy Shearouse.
“Agriculture is the number one industry in the state of Georgia, and it is a field that clearly incorporates all aspects of STEM education: Science, Technology, Engineerin and Mathematics,” said Dr. Shearouse. “As a result, Effingham County students involved in any of the various agricultural programs within our school district will get hands-on experiences at Honey Ridge that they can carry with them for life.”
The superintendent added that Honey Ridge will not only benefit agriculture students. “We also plan to expand property access for school programs beyond those that are agriculturally related such as elementary field trips, ROTC and cross country activities,” he explained. “I feel that there is tremendous potential for how we can utilize Honey Ridge, and I believe great opportunities abound for our students!”
And now at just the beginning of the school year, Wall is already knee-deep in projects and plans at Honey Ridge, especially those involving the youngest of students. They’ve just planted pumpkins for this fall’s pumpkin patch and are also planning a corn maze. They’re also planting blueberry trees and next spring will have a vegetable garden.
“Every first grade student in the county will come out to learn about farm life and see the cows, goats, chicken, sheep and ducks,” said Wall. “The best part is that those tours will be conducted by FFA students from the middle schools and high schools, so they’ll be able to practice leadership and public speaking. Students of all ages will benefit from the experience.”
That exposure to farming, once a part of life in Effingham dating back to the Salzburgers, is now not as commonplace in the county. As one of ECHS’ FFA advisors Meredith Arrington, puts it, many children in the the community have never seen a farm or its animals up close. “Most families are two to three generations removed from farming, and most students I teach don’t know where their food comes from,” she said. “ Out of a class of 25 students, maybe 5 live on a farm or is part of a family involved in production agriculture. Honey Ridge will be a place where they can learn how their food gets from the farm to the table, how corn grown on a farm becomes the cornflake in their cereal bowl.”
Arrington added that no other county in Georgia offers the type of experience and opportunities available through Honey Ridge. “Instead of seeing pictures or videos in the classroom, the students will be able to have classes out at the farm. Instead of just talking to them about deworming cattle and trimming goat hooves, we’ll be able to show them.”
Her sentiments are echoed by Alisha Richardson, one of SEHS’ FFA advisors. “It’s a new avenue for the students, one they’re very excited about,” she said. “There’s so much out at Honey Ridge, more than most people realize, so the students will be exposed to more than just agriculture and forestry.” Richardson knows better than most people what the farm has to offer, as she lives on the property with her husband, Ben, an FFA advisor at ECHS. The couple helps out with the animals and other tasks around the farm.
In addition to the Richardsons, Honey Ridge is staffed part time by Trent Dickerson, an agribusiness student from Ogeechee Tech, as part of the farm’s new work-based learning initiative. According to Wall, the team will be joined this fall by a high school student in the program.
Honey Ridge Plantation’s previous owner was Effingham County’s Sam Zemurray, who bought the property in 1978. Throughout the years, he acquired many top line bulls and cows, and sold cattle to big name enthusiasts and breeders from across the country. Zemurray even owned a bull with country singer Kenny Rogers (named “High Voltage”).
Wall said they still maintain cows at the property. “Right now we have about 25 head of beef cattle, and our goal is 50,” he said. “Some of them are purebreds but some are commercial cross breeds as well.” In the spring, FFA students went out to the farm to administer vaccinations and deworm the cattle.
Several local students have even been picked to show Honey Ridge’s cows. Makenzie Driggers, a junior at ECHS, has been actively involved in FFA since middle school and is excited to have been asked. “As soon as she walked into her first ag class, she fell in love with it,” said her mom, Cathy. “So when Todd came out to our farm and asked if she would show one of their cows, of course she jumped at the chance.”
Makenzie, who hopes to attend the University of Georgia to study animal nutrition, had been focusing on feeding the cow but recently started training it. She’s also understandably excited about the future of Honey Ridge. “It’s a great way to generate community involvement in agriculture, which is the most important industry as it provides food, fiber and shelter to many individuals,” she said. “Many people do not have much knowledge on the many parts of agriculture, and Honey Ridge is a way to teach them of how broad the industry really is and will inspire individuals to become more involved in our community.”
Makenzie’s mom is equally excited about the new educational program at the farm. “So much of the focus in any school is usually on sports, with very few offerings for students who have other interests,” said Cathy. “Now our young people will have plenty of opportunities in so many areas and the county and schools can stay relevant. I can understand if some people who were questioning the project might not see the big picture, but it really is in the early stages. Just like with the Career Academy or STEM, it will evolve and our community will benefit for many years to come.