Lee County youth gets early start in agribusiness

Published By: Russell Boone September 30, 2020

Shonkia Holsey, a high school senior from Lee County, inspects vegetables growing in hydroponic towers she constructed after acquiring a U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency Youth Loan. Charlie Grace, Fort Valley State University’s Dougherty, Worth and Lee County Extension agent, assisted Holsey with the loan application process.

Shonkia Holsey is preparing herself for a career in agriculture.

The 17-year-old Leesburg native is using futuristic technology in the form of hydroponic towers to grow crops. Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in water or other solutions without the use of soil.

“I thought this was a neat and innovative way to grow leafy vegetables fast,” Shonkia said. Her hydroponics operation consists of three towers located on a 40-acre farm owned by her parents Shon (father) and Chiquita (mother) Holsey in Lee County. She said this inspired her to get involved with agriculture. 

With help from Charlie Grace, Fort Valley State University area Extension agent, the rising Lee County High School senior applied for and successfully received a $5,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Youth Loan.

  As an Extension agent, Grace said he feels honored that Shonkia’s parents have allowed him to be her agricultural mentor. He says he will advise her about entrepreneurship, financial management, recordkeeping  and introduce her to horticulture relating to the hydroponic tower project.

“I will also be teaching her about the USDA-FSA Youth Loan Program as it relates to paying the loan back on an annual basis,” Grace said. He said he looks forward to helping her focus on her agricultural major when she attends college.

To be eligible for the loan, the applicant must be starting or operating an income generating farming project of moderate size. They must be between the ages of 10-20 years old, a member of 4-H, Future Farmers of America (FFA), Tribal Youth Program or an agricultural youth organization.

The Lee County High School senior learned about the loan program after her mother approached Grace and told him of her daughter’s interest in farming. She said that Grace guided her through the loan process. “He also talked to me about my responsibility of paying the loan back,” Shonkia said. After finding out her loan application was accepted, the teenager was ecstatic.

“I was excited that I would be given the opportunity to start my own business,” Shonkia said. The Leesburg native said the loan allowed her to purchase the hydroponic towers, seeds and other equipment.

Her parents are very proud that she decided to follow their footsteps and pursue a career in agriculture. The Holsey’s said Shonkia should learn budgeting, independence, and develop good customer services skills from her farming experiences. “Most importantly, she should learn how to be an entrepreneur. We pray that she succeeds on this path,” her father said.

Shonkia stated she’s in the process of growing a variety of leafy vegetables such as lettuce, kale, rainbow chard and basil.  She plans to sell these vegetables and herbs to consumers. “It makes me feel independent that I will be making my own income, and I’m excited and anxious to see how this turns out,” Shonkia said.

After graduating from high school, Shonkia plans to attend college and major in business with a minor in agribusiness.

For more information about the FSA Youth Loan program, contact Grace at (478) 235-7091 (gracec@fvsu.edu) or visit the USDA-FSA website at www.fsa.usda.gov.