Four Madison County, Georgia students traveled to Indianapolis recently and walked away with the fifth-place plaque in the National FFA Poultry evaluation "Career Development Event" (CDE).
"We all truly wanted it," said team member Isabelle Williams, who was named the high individual in the written exam. "We wanted to win, and we worked so much with each other that we knew what we were good at, what we struggled with, and how to help each other through challenges."
Williams was joined by George Parham, Devin Self, and Joshua Black, who was named high individual in the shell egg grading for interior and exterior factors.
Participants in the poultry CDE select live meat-type chickens for broiler breeding, evaluate and place live egg-type hens, and rate the finished product by evaluating and grading ready-to-cook carcasses and parts of chickens and turkeys.
The Madison County team members got a boost from HireSmart Cares, which helped cover their travel expenses. HireSmart assists the next generation of farmers in a variety of ways, including covering travel costs for students to agriculture-related competitions.
HireSmart Cares recently donated $50,000 to the Madison County FFA to expand the high school ag barn, allowing more students who don't live on farms to raise livestock and learn career skills in ag.
Williams, who is interested in becoming a large animal veterinarian, said poultry judging success is about "paying attention to the small details" and helping each other.
"That's the big factor in poultry judging — picking out all the defects from various poultry products," she said. "We have to judge individually, but then we would all share our suggestions on ways to improve and avoid missing things."
Williams said participation in ag activities helps youth understand all the work that goes into food production, which she said is often overlooked.
HireSmart hopes to raise awareness of the need for a new generation of farmers. "No farms = No food" is a succinct message that strikes home for HireSmart co-founders Mark and Anne Lackey, who commit to doing whatever they can to support youth and their ag career development.
If you support that aim, consider donating to HireSmart's ag initiative here.
HireSmart Supports Top FFA Ag Communications Team in the U.S.
Katie Carrouth and her teammates, Abbi Adams, Anna Moon, and Anna Kate Mathis, laugh at the video of their surprised faces when they learned that, "Yes!" they're the best in the nation.
The Madison County FFA Ag Communications team earned first in the U.S. at the 96th Annual National FFA Convention and Expo.
"All of us were so shocked, and since then, we've all re-watched the clip so many times, just laughing at our own expressions," said Carrouth. "It was super sweet to have that moment filmed so we can all remember it."
Adams, who placed sixth overall in the individual competition, said the moment was intense.
"To me, it felt we were the only people in the room," she said. "All of my senses were both heightened and subdued at the exact same moment. It was a feeling I had never felt before. When they announced the second-place team and we realized we had won, I remember a feeling of shock. It wasn't until we left the stage that my sobs began, and I realized my hands were numb from stress."
The quartet got a boost from HireSmart Cares, a nonprofit focused on helping youth develop job skills, which provided grants for Madison County FFA members, including the ag communications team, to cover costs associated with the trip.
A primary focus of HireSmart is encouraging youth involvement in agriculture, which involves spreading the word about career options and the relevance of ag in so many aspects of life.
That's also the focus of ag communications teams — providing the public with a greater understanding of agriculture.
Adams, a student at Wesleyan College majoring in English education and minoring in communications, said the importance of ag communications often goes overlooked.
"Without agricultural communications, nobody would know anything relating to the agriculture industry," she said. "'Ag Comm' hopes to create advocacy and transparency. It is important for the future of the agriculture industry as it will help connect consumers to farms and major corporations."
Carrouth, a singer/songwriter and music producer getting a Bachelor of Arts in Music at Georgia College and State University, said the agricultural communications focus in high school "allowed me to branch out and try more things that challenged me which has helped tremendously at college."
She wasn't raised on a farm, "so I always felt a bit left out of that sector," but she has relatives and peers in agriculture.
"I saw the need for bridging the gap between non-traditional and traditional agriculturalists through activities of the FFA such as the agricultural communications CDE," said Carrouth.
She added that reaching consumers to educate them about agriculture is "one of the most important things for the agriculture industry to focus on."
Adams and Carrouth said the team's first-place finish in the U.S. was a byproduct of the companionship they felt as they worked toward a shared goal.
"The four-person team dynamic is really special because it allows four separate approaches to creativity to be combined into one cohesive project," said Carrouth. "This competition is a lot of work and has many parts to complete, so having a team like ours is super important. As far as taking first place, I feel that it comes down to our passion for it. We all wanted to do well, so we put every ounce of effort we could into it. We are also very good friends, so teamwork skills came naturally."
Adams said the "contest brought us closer than we ever imagined."
"While we worked through every step of the way, we understand each other as well as the vision we hoped to create," she said. "We practiced compassion while simultaneously holding each other accountable… We wanted to keep practicing and tweaking the fine details because we wanted to be the best, and we didn't quite know what that meant at a national level. We all care about this contest so incredibly much. We didn't only want to win for ourselves; we wanted to win for each other."
HireSmart Cares applauds the FFA team for their commitment to each other and their hard work toward a shared goal. If you have a workforce development idea and would like to share it with us, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To contribute to our efforts to help today's youth be tomorrow's leaders, click here.
Ava Willoughby recently got a taste of being a veterinarian when she had to care for her sick goat, Lupe, through the night.
“We had to give her medicine throughout the night, every four hours,” said the eighth grader, who watched Lupe recover and regain her appetite.
Ava loves the feeling of helping animals and plans to make that her career.
“I like being around animals, and I feel like that’s what makes me happy,” she said of her desire to be a veterinarian for both big and small animals.
HireSmart Cares wants Ava to thrive in that role. So HireSmart steps in with support for Ava and many other youth aiming to gain skills now for a brighter tomorrow.
For instance, the nonprofit is covering the cost of an ag barn expansion in Madison County, Georgia so kids who don’t live on a farm can learn to care for livestock. HireSmart also funds ag-related scholarships and a variety of grants for youth interested in ag careers.
Ava was able to travel to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the National FFA Convention in October with financial assistance from HireSmart for lodging, travel, and fees.
She said she enjoyed the trip and had a chance to hear from a variety of people about their agricultural backgrounds.
“It was fun, definitely really cold,” said Ava about the convention. “We had a lot of entertainment. We went to the zoo and then we had our sessions where we went and listened to people talk about their experiences.”
The daughter of Josh and Brandi and the third of four children is in her first year showing goats with FFA. Ava has two goats, Peaches and Lupe, and will soon add a third, Ginga.
“A few of my friends show, and I thought it would be really fun, and since goats aren’t the hardest to show for your first year,” she said. “The cows take a lot of work, probably double the time you spend with a goat.”
Still, Ava said she will probably show cows during high school.
“I’ve thought about having a cow,” she said. “I don’t feel like I want to do it right now, but I definitely want to when I’m in high school.”
Ava participates on the middle school livestock judging team, learning to perform market evaluations.
“If you’re judging your market animals for the meat, you want them to be bigger, and you don’t want them to be fat,” she said. “You want them to be bigger and muscular. And then for the breeding, you want them to have a good structure so they can hold up when carrying (offspring).”
She’s also a middle school FFA officer this year, serving as the parliamentarian.
“We’ll do a slideshow of how agriculture relates to what we’re talking about in that meeting,” said Ava. “The last meeting we did basketball. We stayed for the middle school basketball game, and I did a slideshow over how that related to agriculture.”
She talked with fellow FFA members about how the basketball flooring is hardwood, the ball is made from cowhide, and the first-ever basketball goals were peach baskets.
Ava smiles when talking about animals, including her dogs, Ivy and Banjo, and she’s looking forward to a future looking out for all creatures big and small as a veterinarian.
HireSmart aims to help Ava and her peers take those steps to success, making the future brighter for all.
Ava’s mom, Brandi, said she’s grateful for the support.
“Being able to attend the National FFA Convention was definitely a privilege, said Brandi. “Ava was able to gain a larger perspective of the FFA organization and the opportunities it can provide. We are grateful that HireSmart Cares was willing to help provide Ava with an opportunity to expand her knowledge and build upon her success with FFA and her future endeavors.”
If you’re interested in helping HireSmart support youth like Ava through a wide variety of workforce development initiatives, click here to contribute.
Our food doesn't grow in grocery stores.
That's one of the first agricultural lessons a child should learn in life, the fact that a lot of hard work is involved before any bite we take, from milking cows to planting and harvesting crops to transporting food from farms to stores.
The farm-to-table journey is a web of human collaboration, know-how, and daily effort.
HireSmart Cares, a 501c3, supports its local farming community and wants to see the next generation of farmers succeed. That's why HireSmart supports the ag community from every angle, whether it's providing scholarships for students pursuing ag-related degrees or committing to 25 percent of livestock housing costs at the soon-to-be constructed ag center so students who don't live on farms can take on the responsibilities of animal care and perhaps venture into an ag career.
HireSmart is always asking, "How can we help?" So, it provides aid in various ways, such as awarding a grant to a local teenage soap maker to purchase a milk machine to use with her cows that supply the milk for her soap.
The nonprofit provided a grant for Madison County's October Pioneer Harvest Festival for children's "Farm Fun Zone," which was used to purchase miniature tractors so kids could feel the thrill of being a "farmer" while waving at mom and dad.
HireSmart Cares has a simple mission: "helping kids." We're always eager to support the next generation with tools, technology, time, and teaching. We're always searching for children and teens who aim to better themselves and be tomorrow's leaders. We want to give those young people that extra boost to succeed.
Our nonprofit supports the next generation in three areas of giving:
"I have witnessed the impact of Hiresmart Cares from an educational and industry standpoint, and the contributions made by them are life-changing for students starting their careers," said Jake Slusher, former construction teacher and current Field Training Director for E.R. Snell Contractor Inc. "Hiresmart Cares helps students overcome unforeseen expenses that general scholarships do not cover. They have helped students entering trades buy tools, purchase boots to keep them comfortable at work, uniforms/work attire, and provide funds for transportation. Many scholarships require students to go to college or enter a certain field, but Hiresmart Cares puts the student's dreams first by helping them in many different industries, including healthcare, construction, manufacturing, and business entrepreneurship."
Help us help kids. Do you have an idea of how HireSmart can support the next generation? If so, contact us at Info@HireSmartCares.org.
Kaylee Brown believes home is where the heart is. She feels connected to the land, the animals, and the people of her home community, and once she graduates from college, she wants to move back home and teach youth about the importance of agriculture and the joys it holds.
"I want to come back to Madison County," she said. "I like the community here, and we all kind of support each other."
HireSmart Cares is helping make an ag-education career a reality for Kaylee, rewarding the 2023 high school graduate with a $1,000 scholarship to assist her at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC). HireSmart funds numerous ag-related scholarships and initiatives to support a new generation of farmers and ag leaders who will feed the U.S. and the world in years to come.
Kaylee, the daughter of Ray and Suzanne Brown, said she's always been drawn to the outdoors. She hunts and fishes with her father and has enjoyed working with cattle. Her family has a couple of cow/calf pairs, and her uncle has a larger cattle operation, where she helps vaccinate the animals.
She also showed cows in livestock exhibits during high school, adding that the camaraderie among fellow show team members was special.
"It was like one big family," she said.
Kaylee wants to be like her former ag teacher, Kalie Blevins, who left education to run her company, Bold Spring Blooms. She said Blevins was caring, a wonderful instructor, and instrumental in getting her involved in floral design.
"Once she left, it really hit me how much she did for me and how she helped me break out of my comfort zone," said Kaylee. "I want to be that mentor one day for kids."
Kaylee expresses interest in teaching either middle school or high school, where she can help students as they explore what they want to do after grade school.
"We'll see," she said. "I'll just see where God takes me."
In her spare time, Kaylee enjoys music and singing in church. She also finds peace in making floral arrangements.
"It just calms me," said the recent graduate, who won floral competitions in high school.
Kaylee spent summer days between graduation and college babysitting six children between the ages of 2 and 9. Now, she's off to a new challenge. And she's grateful to HireSmart for making that road a little smoother.
"I want to thank you for helping make it possible for me to pursue my dream of becoming an ag teacher," she wrote in a "thank you" letter. "Your contribution to my education is so generous and will allow me to focus on my studies."
Donate And Help Kids Here.
Think of your favorite hot meal on your plate — that welcome smell, the first satisfying bite. Eating is a simple act, but the journey of that food to your plate isn’t easy, at least not for farmers, who spend long hours tending to animals and crops so the rest of the world can work, play, and sleep on a full stomach.
Mark and Anne Lackey, owners of HireSmart Cares, understand that farmers need nourishment in the form of societal support. So, they want to ensure that the next generation of farmers gets what it needs. They’re stepping in to make a difference in their home community of Madison County, Georgia, a farming community that sits on the edge of an expanding Atlanta metropolitan area.
“We need to help ground what’s going on in Madison County,” said Mark. “The kids in agriculture are helping feed all the people that are here.”
North Georgia communities have seen the loss of both farmers and farmland to urban expansion. But Madison County aims to maintain its farming identity. The county is taking steps in a variety of ways to support its agricultural economy, including the development of an agricultural center for local youth, which will give children and teens hands-on ag experiences, such as caring for livestock, as they learn about possibilities in farming and a variety of ag-related careers.
A major component of the AG center will be a student livestock housing facility, including three barns for housing animals. Students who don’t live on farms and don’t have the money to purchase and maintain livestock will be able to care for their own animals thanks to support from HireSmart Cares, which has committed to funding 25 percent of the annual operating costs for the show-barn facilities. HireSmart Cares also funds trips to national livestock show competitions for Madison County youth.
Terry Chandler, a farmer and Madison County commissioner, and Cindy Jones, an AG teacher at Madison County High School, are leaders in the ag center effort—both voice deep gratitude for what HireSmart Cares is doing.
“They (HireSmart) are extremely generous, and it’s going to make this opportunity available to a lot more kids,” said Jones. “As we’re up and running, funds will be available through HireSmart Cares to supplement those students that can’t afford to do this on their own. And that’s going to be huge. We appreciate their confidence in us and their vision that they can see what this facility will do for students. It’s not just animal science principles these kids are learning. It’s employability skills. It’s responsibility. It’s dependability and appropriate behavior with each other and with adults. It just teaches a lot.”
Jones said participants who don’t choose a career in agriculture would gain a greater appreciation of the role ag plays in society.
“We have so many kids who come through the program who discover agriculture through these livestock projects,” she said. “And even if 50-60-70 percent of these kids don’t end up in an agricultural career, they understand it; they’re advocates. They’ll be better neighbors to that farmer. And we’ve improved our situation in the ag community by having someone who understands what we do.”
Chandler noted what a boost the HireSmart contributions are to a plan that has been years in the making with significant hurdles along the way.
“I think it is phenomenal,” he said. “You have some non-traditional AG people who see the value in this and want to contribute to it. That is just so encouraging to us. As we’ve struggled through this process, that’s so encouraging to have somebody step up like that.”
The student livestock housing facility is expected to open in the fall of 2023.
When Thomas Lord wanted to start his own business, HireSmart Cares stepped in with seed money so the high schooler could give his first entrepreneurial effort a go.
Thomas got a grant from Mark and Anne Lackey, Co-Founders of HireSmart Cares and a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), and with the help of his parents, Keith and Lauren, Thomas put up two 10’ by 16’ greenhouses where he would grow tomatoes and peppers for his business, F.R.O.G. Produce, which stands for “Farm-Raised, Organically Grown".
Thomas got the business idea after the agriculture department at the Broad River College and Career Academy in Danielsville, Georgia reactivated its aquaponics system, where plants are grown in the water that has been used to cultivate fish. Thomas was soon hooked on growing his own business.
“I originally thought about potentially growing flowers in the greenhouse and really growing anything in the greenhouse was really interesting to me,” he said.
Thomas cut the fish from the equation. But he had a vision — abundant tomatoes and peppers grown in a greenhouse through hydroponics, the process of growing plants using water and nutrients without soil. It would be his own niche on the family farm, where his mom said he has always been “faithful but halfhearted help in the poultry houses”.
Lauren said she loved seeing her son’s excitement about starting his own business.
“It was so exciting to see his enthusiasm and listen to his ideas for marketing,” she said. “He stayed up way too late researching various hydroponic systems, and we visited three operations to get ideas.”
Thomas said he initially grew “Rebelski" or some other beef steak type of tomato along with some cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and little mini bell peppers.
But temperature stabilization of the air and water proved a persistent challenge in the small greenhouses. Soil acts as a temperature stabilizer for roots in the ground, which aren’t exposed to the sun like in a greenhouse. Hydroponics requires considerable attention to the temperature, which affects the absorption rate of the nutrients. Thomas used an above-ground 50-gallon drum to feed the plants with water. He said a 250-gallon drum buried underground would be better for temperature stabilization. He also used fans to keep air flowing through the greenhouses. After he discovered the initial difficulties related to temperature, he narrowed his plan.
“I went more into focusing on specifically more beef steak variety of tomatoes, because we were noticing that some of our initial problems were keeping temperature control in the house since it’s such a small and contained area,” he said. “It was two 10’ by 16’ houses and a tiny fluctuation is a very big fluctuation in terms of the houses being so small. So, we decided to focus on the singular beef steak variety - so we could stabilize everything and make sure everything goes well before we start trying to branch out into some other options.”
Thomas sought to grow “indeterminate” tomatoes, which continue to set and ripen fruit throughout the growing season, instead of “determinate,” which hit their mature height and set all their fruit at once.
He said he would get a good first yield off the plants, but the second batch always proved problematic.
“The first harvest would go fine and then after that, they would just not really do anything,” he said.
Thomas is approaching the end of high school. He’ll cross the stage at Madison County High School in May, and then he’s planning to go to college and then work in the hospitality industry.
“The two industries I’ve looked at the most would be hotel and resort and the next one would be the food and beverage industry,” he said.
Thomas said he’s not planning to continue with hydroponics as a business in the short term, because of the costs, but it’s something he still loves and sees as a hobby. He said working in the greenhouses has been a good place to “think through the day or the week or a problem that you have that you’re trying to find a good solution for.”
But beyond growing plants, it’s been a growing endeavor for the teen, giving him perspective on the hard work it takes to start a business.
“It’s taught me a wide variety of life skills that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about, because typically high schoolers aren’t thinking about budgeting or anything,” he said. “But with this, the FSA wanted me to list out the average estimated amount for each thing I went through. What do I need? What am I going to use? And it really helped me with learning how to set out a budget for something. I needed to know where I was going to stand. It might have been a little bit lower. It might have been a little bit higher, but it gave me a good estimate of what it was going to be and that’s just not a life skill that was an everyday thing for me. It’s definitely better to learn that earlier than later in life. These are things I wouldn’t have thought about on a typical day in high school.”
Thomas said he’s grateful for the opportunity HireSmart Cares provided.
“The Lackeys were generous enough to give me a grant to help with this, and they have also given me some really good advice,” said Thomas. “It’s been very helpful, and I really enjoy being able to communicate with them and appreciate the experience they’ve offered me.”