Ag Ed at Union County High: Preserving the Legacy

Union County High School agriscience and agriculture instructors John Fugate and Linda Baxter

John Fugate and Linda Baxter come from different backgrounds, but when it comes to agriculture education at Union County High School, their philosophy is the same. They want to prepare students for the reality of today's careers while preserving the rich legacy of Union County agriculture.

"We don't just grow plants and animals," said Fugate. "We grow kids."

Baxter is originally from Colorado, but she attended high school in California, and her family later moved to Memphis. She attended UT Knoxville for pre-vet and changed to agriculture education.

"I fell in love with Knoxville and never left," she said.

She started teaching at Campbell County High School in 1990, then spent five years at Clinton High before coming to Union County High in 1997.

Fugate describes himself as a hillbilly. He grew up in Claiborne County farming 1,000 acres with his family. He attended Tennessee Wesleyan, then transferred to UT Knoxville to study agriculture economics. After working in South Carolina with Southern States Farmers Co-op, he moved back home to be a full-time farmer. He got a teaching certificate and came on board at UCHS, where he's been teaching for 20 years.

The two teach different but complimentary sides of agriculture. Baxter teaches the basic agriscience course, plus concentrations in plant science, greenhouse production and even hydroponics. Fugate teaches agriculture mechanics classes, including small engine repair, welding and more. And the skills they learn don't just apply to agriculture. In the greenhouse, which is open to the public in the spring, students learn customer service, accounting and proper phone etiquette. Baxter said technology is "just a fact of life" for modern agriculture jobs, so computer skills, lab equipment, and even GPS, GIS and drones are included in the program at UCHS.

Fugate and Baxter also share leadership of the Horace Maynard Chapter of Future Farmers of America, a role that each sees as a sacred trust. The original charter from 1928 is preserved in Baxter's office, and some students are third or fourth generation in the program, learning public speaking, the value of community service, and gaining a wide variety of experience. FFA students are also active in the backpack program that sends food home with students who may not have meals at home. Horace Maynard FFA stores the food, packs the bags and distributes them to schools in Union County.

"We take it seriously," said Fugate. "FFA has been an integral part of teens' lives for a long time."

Both acknowledge that the face of agriculture has changed. There isn't as much production agriculture in Union County as there used to be, but students can use the program as a springboard into a variety of careers, like landscaping, lawn maintenance, equipment operation, welding and more. And there's always a need for more farmers.

"Two percent of our population feed 300 billion people," said Baxter. "And the majority of farmers are over 60, so we need kids to produce our food."

"The problems before these students in the future include being more efficient, more environmentally conscious," said Fugate. "We're trying to give them the skills to solve some of those problems. I feel like this program has been and will be very valuable in education."

Fruit sales to help support FFA projects are going on now. To purchase, speak to an FFA member or call the school at 865-992-0180. The UCHS greenhouse will open for sales April 1.

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Interested in Homeschooling?

Monday, February 25, 2019 - 18:00

Join us for our annual Mom's night out. Monday, February 25, at six pm when April Shepherd, from the Smoky Mountain Home Education Association will be speaking at Hardees. April, a proponent of country living and a successful homeschooling Mother, will be speaking on using everyday living to teach fundamentals and life skills. She has titled her talk, "Little House on the Prairie Schooling". Sponsored by the local support group of homeschooling families, more information can be obtained by contacting Connie Dickey @ 865-992-3629

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