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Students in Southeast Ohio Trade Classrooms for Pasture on Their School Farm
Ohio Ag Connection - 06/05/2023

Deep in the rolling hills of southeast Ohio is Shenandoah High School, home of the Zeps and the first entirely student-operated farm in the Appalachian region.

The school farm is called Green Acres Farm, and it sits on almost 140 acres down the road from Shenandoah High. Students become involved with Green Acres when they enroll in an agricultural education course doing everything from livestock vaccination to harvesting hay.

While their peers sit in a classroom, the agricultural education students hop on a bus every day to spend 90 minutes on the farm getting their hands dirty.

Some spend even more time on the farm.

Eliza Carpenter, a junior and the Shenandoah High FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) chapter president, said she would do everything from vaccinating cattle to feeding piglets in a typical school day.

“Every chance I get I just come down here because why waste time in study hall when I can come down here and expand my education,” Carpenter said.

An idea is planted on the school farm

Food and agriculture is Ohio’s No. 1 industry, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The industry employs one in eight Ohioans and generates over $10 billion a year in revenue. Seeing this, the Noble Local School District administration thought it was a no-brainer to have something so involved in their community be integrated into their education system.

“There’s roughly 90,000 jobs in the state of Ohio that are in the agriculture industry,” said Noble Local School District Superintendent Justin Denius. “That is a main staple in our community.”

Four years ago the idea of a school farm at Shenandoah High was turned into a reality. The previous administration bought some land down the road from the school and construction began in 2021.

The school received $1.5 million in grant funding to build the farm, Denius said.

After two years of construction, the farm opened with a two-classroom facility coupled with a welding shop, tractor garage and more. The response was strong: Almost half of the 290 student population is involved in the agricultural education program.

“It’s a true testament to the mission and vision of the administration and the board of education,” Denius said. “They’ve bought into the idea of providing our kids with every opportunity any other kid in the state of Ohio would have. There’s no reason our kids can’t have that same access and opportunity as anyone else.”

“A” is for agriculture at Green Acres

Noble is a K-12 STEM designated district, Denius said. But he said he prefers “STEAM,” meaning science, technology, engineering, agriculture and mathematics. Typically, the “A” stands for arts, but for Noble, it stands for agriculture.

“When we went for STEM designation, we were thinking, ‘How does that play into ag and something that is near and dear to our community? How can we be innovative in our ag program and play off of that with our STEM designation?’” Denius said. “The fact that it’s a big part of our community before this facility was ever here is a big reason as to why it is what it is today.”

The 150-student agricultural education program is taught by three instructors: Eric Van Fleet, Matt Wentworth and Jessie Pahoundis.

Pahoundis, who the students lovingly refer to as Mrs. JP, teaches a course on drones. Students learn how to do everything from general drone operations to professional video filming and editing with the footage they gather from it.

“By the end of the course, my students can get their drone license, so they can commercially fly anything from half a pound to a 55-pound drone,” Pahoundis said.

Because the farm is close to 140 acres, Pahoundis said the drones help the students check up on the day-to-day operations.

“A lot of times what we do is check the cattle and see how many calves we have, especially during calving season,” Pahoundis said. “We also check on our waterway to see if it’s still up. The students built a bridge, so my drone students fly drones out there to check on the bridge and see where it’s at on the map.”

The student experience reaps rewards

This past school year was the first full year students had to be engaged with the farm. Unlike many students, for agricultural education students, the school day is not long enough.

“We basically have to tell them, ‘You have to go home at some point,'” Denius said. “They want to be here. We don’t have an attendance problem and we don’t have an engagement problem. It’s unbelievable the dedication our kids have to the program here.”

To ensure consistency in the leadership of who maintains the farm, each year the program elects a student to serve as the farm manager. The student will do everything from keeping farm records to managing the livestock feeding schedule.

Brooke Stottsberry, a class of 2023 Shenandoah High graduate and former Shenandoah FFA chapter president, was the farm manager this past school year and said she cannot imagine her high school career without it.


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