From kiwis and peanuts to sorghum and a blast peeler, which skins fruit using heat and pressure, students in the Youth Leadership and Career Development Program saw all sides of horticulture at the Chilton Research and Extension Center in late summer.
Twenty-six high school students from Limestone and Morgan counties participated in the seven-month program. During five leadership forums and three field trips, students toured the research center, the University of Alabama, Auburn University, Hyundai Manufacturing, the Alabama Catfish Farms and Research Unit and other Alabama businesses and educational institutions.
“This is job-shadowing and career exploration, especially in the fields of agriculture,” said Danielle Cassady, a senior at East Limestone High School. “It’s awesome that it gives us the opportunity to explore different careers.”
Managed by the Limestone and Morgan County Alabama Cooperative Extension System offices, the program introduced the north Alabama students to various careers and types of agriculture, such as catfish.
“I learned our state is the No. 2-producer of catfish in the United States, and I had no idea we were that far ahead,” said Thomas Peek, a senior at West Limestone County High School.
The Limestone and Morgan County Farmers Federations along with the Alabama 4-H Foundation; the Alabama Mountains, Rivers and Valleys Resource Conservation and Development Council; and the Limestone and Morgan County Alabama Cooperative Extension System offices funded the leadership program.
Limestone County Federation President Paul Looney attended the graduation ceremony for the program.
“Every one of our directors has a compassion to help our young people, supporting FFA, 4-H and other youth programs,” Looney said. “These kids come back and help us, too, with our annual meetings and other events. They are very outstanding young people.”
Former Morgan County Federation President Ted Grantland supported the program as a way to develop leaders.
“People say youth are our future, but they are also part of our world today,” Grantland said. “Our county board tries to encourage and educate young people now so they are better leaders for tomorrow.”
County Extension Coordinator Betty Ann Broman said this year marked the third time the Extension offices hosted the program.
“Thanks to the sponsors, the students gain a life-changing experience and see Alabama agriculture, businesses and educational opportunities they would not have seen otherwise,” she said.
Participating students were Travis Blankenship, Katy Guyse and Tyler Boyer of Falkville High School; Danielle Cassady and Claire Hughes of East Limestone High School; Presley Clark, Harbin and Thomas Peek of West Limestone High School; Patrick Doherty, Rylee Gillies, Kourtney Lindsey, Kayla Perkins, Garrett Smith, Erin Turner and Jesse Turner of Danville High School; Justice Gilbert and Jessica McAlister of Athens High School; Max Hitt, Miranda Malone, Madissen Patterson and Morgan Terry of Ardmore High School; Garrett Johnson of Way Home, home school; Sara Maples of Elkmont High School; and Ben Nunley, Seth Reese and Cole White of Clements High School.