Three agricultural students at Fort Valley State University are cultivating change in their local communities.
In preparation, the Wildcats interned with small farmers in Georgia and earned a stipend for their hard work. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant made it possible for FVSU and the Georgia Department of Public Health to partner together for the purpose of assisting rural farmers in the state with their daily operations and at several local farmers markets.
Sophomore Rodney “RJ” Brooks had the pleasure of working with Shon and Chiquita Holsey, owners of Holsey Farms in Lee County, Georgia. The animal science major performed tasks such as planting and harvesting numerous crops, including corn, cucumbers, tomatoes and squash.
In addition, Brooks traveled frequently with the couple to several farmers markets in the district. His responsibilities involved gathering and packaging customers’ orders. “Overall, this was a great experience. It taught me a lot of discipline – getting out in the heat and working during summer break,” Brooks said. “This experience also helped me better understand the importance of farming and agriculture for our resources. These simple things will help me better focus on my career in animal agriculture.”
Upon graduation, the FVSU Wildcat plans to continue his path toward becoming a veterinarian. Shon is appreciative of Brooks’ diligence and assistance, as well as receiving resources from FVSU, such as bags for the farmers markets. He raved about the collaboration with the Historically Black University.
“It is always good to have an extra set of hands. However, I enjoy teaching others and helping them understand where vegetables come from. It has been a great opportunity,” Shon said. Farming all his life, he said his mother had a small farm at the back of the house when he was growing up. “That kept us fed,” he said. He wants to continue working with students to educate them about farming and provide hands-on experience.
Chiquita noted they worked at more farmers markets this year than in 2020. They visited more than 15 farmers markets in the state, leading to about a 30 percent increase in sales. Throughout the years, the Holseys have benefited from FVSU’s Cooperative Extension Program.
“FVSU is a vital educational source. We now have different ways to incorporate things on the farm in our day-to-day operations, which we learned from FVSU, such as attending the record-keeping classes,” Chiquita said.
Furthermore, students Columbus Alderman and Shaneil Allen interned at Tilford Winery and Farms in Kathleen, Georgia.
Owner Robert Taylor has been in business for more than 25 years. He grows multiple crops such as jalapenos, eggplants and asparagus, but he specializes in producing nutritious muscadine wine and fruit juice. The juice has 13 properties and the highest antioxidants than any other grape.
Taylor, who grew up on a small farm in Mississippi, said for the past three years, rural farmers in Georgia could not find assistance with labor and resources. With help from Alderman and Allen, he said the two students learned about hoop house management, planting, plant propagation and weed eating.
“Students get to experience the real-world through agriculture,” Taylor said. “Every morning, you are going to get something from the agricultural farm – vegetables, butter, the things we need.” He praised the partnership with FVSU and the students. “They have integral knowledge. We learned from each other,” he said.
Alderman, a junior agricultural economics major, always wanted to be a farmer. “I learned what it takes to be a farmer and that having a lot of connections is important,” he commented. His advice to students interested in farming is to be prepared to gain knowledge. He thanked Taylor and FVSU for the experience.
Allen, senior animal science major, enjoyed interning at Tilford Winery and Farms and preparing produce for customers at the farmers markets. “Mr. Taylor’s fruits and vegetables are naturally grown. I aspire to make food for animals. Seeing how they are grown can help me find ways to combine them and make food for animals,” she said.
The future veterinarian encourages other students interested in interning on a farm to make the best of it. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Allen said.