Ag secretary tours IWCS’ farm

Published 1:51 pm Monday, March 11, 2019

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On March 1, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring toured Isle of Wight County Schools’ working farm (Land Lab) and met with students enrolled in the school division’s agriculture career and technical education program.

The site, located behind Windsor Elementary School, includes a barn — complete with stables — and a classroom building, both of which were constructed in 2018. It also includes farm fields, a chicken coop and other outbuildings and structures built by students.

“Everything here, other than this facility [the barn and classroom building], is student-built,” said Isle of Wight County Schools’ farm manager Daniel Judkins.

The tour began in the classroom building, where agriculture students Kendall Pulley and Naomi Bullis showed Ring a list of animals, and each of their names, housed on the farm. Next, she toured the barn, and got to handle several of the animals housed there. Finally, the tour group moved outside to the outbuildings and fields.

Ring said that Isle of Wight’s Land Lab was one of the largest student-run agriculture operations she had seen, and suggested she could use her position as secretary of agriculture to help spread the idea to other school divisions across the state.

“I’d love to see this happening statewide,” Ring said.

As for how this could happen, she suggested telling Isle of Wight’s story at Virginia’s upcoming farm-to-school conference and agritourism conference, as well as working with Virginia’s secretary of education.

“You remember it in a way you don’t if you were just reading about it,” Ring said of the hands-on approach at Isle of Wight County Schools.

She also found it encouraging that not all of the students currently enrolled in Isle of Wight County Schools’ agriculture program had grown up on farms, and suggested that the program count persuade some of these students to take up farming as a career.

The tour concluded back in the barn with Ring reading the Dr. Seuss book “Mr. Brown Can Moo” to Marita Cotten’s and Julie Branch’s classes for Read Across America Day, which honors the Seuss’s birthday.