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Lanier Career Academy program to add farmers market, orchard
Lanier Charter Career Academy senior Sheena Boyd pulls weeds from a raised bed Thursday morning during horticulture class. The class will soon be expanding its footprint at the school with the addition of a barn, a large garden and an orchard.

Grant is the horticulture teacher at the academy overseeing a number of expansions to the program.

Those expansions include a farmers market and orchard that will be open to the public, a large fruit and vegetable garden, a barn with chickens and goats and about an acre of deer fencing to keep the critters from tearing into the new crops. There will also be a new class in landscape and nursery management.

“The goal of the program is to equip students to go out and join the workforce in an agriculture-related occupation, which there are hundreds of,” Grant said. “It’s also about healthy lifestyles. ... You don’t have to go to a gym to be active. You can be outside working.”

Currently, students learn skills including proper soil preparation, small equipment maintenance and keeping a sanitary greenhouse. The new barn, orchard and farmers market will add animal husbandry, marketing and business planning to that list, among other things.

“When you’re growing to sell, there’s a lot of planning,” Grant said. “It’s not just throwing seeds in the ground.”

Students will run the market, which is set to open sometime next spring, under teacher supervision.

“They’re learning where their food comes from — that it’s not just from the aisle at the grocery store or the drive-thru at the fast food restaurant,” Grant said. “They learn that you can grow your food, and it takes work.”

The students already cultivate a small vegetable garden that grows food for The Bistro at The Oaks, the school-run restaurant that is part of its culinary arts program.

Crops include different varieties of herbs, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, spinach and other vegetables. With the new, larger garden and the orchard, Grant plans to offer a wider variety of fruits and vegetables at the market, as well as hanging plants and possibly cut flowers. Eventually, she hopes to offer eggs from the chickens planned for the barn.

The market and supporting farm will be designed to sustain their own operating costs, but their creation is made possible by grants and donations from community businesses.

The materials for the market and barn were provided by a $25,000 grant from Lowe’s and SkillsUSA. The labor, landscaping and electrical work are being donated by local businesses and county inmate labor programs.

“We have so much support from local businesses. People are hearing what we’re doing and making donations,” Grant said.

The orchard is funded with a $2,000 grant from Edible Neighborwoods, an organization that promotes local agriculture and food access. The grant will be used to purchase a variety of trees including fig, apple, crabapple, pecan, almond, persimmon, paw paw, quince and Asian pear. The orchard will be open to the public as part of the grant stipulations.

The horticulture program is part of the district’s Career, Technical and Agricultural Education track. Students earn science credits and career pathway credits when they complete the class.

Senior Christopher Olmstead, 19, said career skills are just part of what he’s learning in the program. He’s also finding ways to help out at home.

“I was never really a big gardener, but during this class, I learned a lot about gardening,” he said. “Now when I go home and my grandparents ask, I can finally go and help them in the garden.”

Olmstead said the best thing about the class is being able to get out of the classroom and work with his hands.

“I envision every class to be outside, pretty much all the time,” Grant said. “We still have book work, but it’s mostly hands-on learning.”

Students are also learning to embrace nutrition, according to Janie Parott, co-teacher of the class.

“It really has encouraged the kids to eat better, because they’re growing the vegetables, so they’re interested,” she said. “They’re all excited about taking home broccoli and arugula, and things they might not have much interest in otherwise.”

Grant said the program is about teaching sustainability, whether it’s financial or ecological.

“I want to be able to show that sustainable small farming can be done, and that a person can make a living,” Grant said.

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