May 24, 2024

HireSmart invests in future farmers at Colbert Elementary 

It’s not Dasher and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen — remember the Rudolph song? Try Charlotte, Pumpkin, Nugget, and Flappy. 

Those are the chickens at the mini-farm at Colbert Elementary School where teacher Jenny Heath shows over 400 students the joys and satisfactions in the disciplined care of animals and crops. 

“Students are learning the importance of owning and caring for livestock,” said Heath. “This is related first hand to our community as they see chicken houses all over Madison County. They are taught the purpose of livestock as well as possible careers in the field.” 

Heath also teaches students about raising crops and why the growing process is so vital to every person — we all must eat!  

“In my class, students learn what to plant, and when and how to plant it,” said Heath. “During the growing season, they help to maintain the garden and we talk about how factors out of our control (weather, insects) can either positively or negatively affect our yield. This is always related to a big picture in terms of farming. I stress how important farmers are and that this is something they can choose to do in their future even if they do not currently live on a family farm.” 

Heath’s commitment to teaching students about the land, about farming, about science, about identifying birds and plants and increasing students’ knowledge of the natural world, about how to move in the direction of self sustenance — all of these things directly match the purpose of HireSmart Cares, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping the next generation succeed.  

HireSmart Cares Co-CEO Mark Lackey visited Colbert Elementary School recently to present Heath with a $3,000 check to expand the school farm and provide more ag-education and science-related learning opportunities.  

“I love what you’re doing, and I’m really appreciative,” Lackey told Heath. “Thank you for what you do.” 

Lackey said students with agricultural skills will always be vital to society. He said the same goes for students in hands-on trades. 

“If you’re a plumber, electrician, or a carpenter, you will always have work,” he said. “That’s what we try to instill in the kids.”  

Colbert Elementary Principal James Fahrney said Heath’s program is “outstanding.” 

“Jenny Heath is amazing and she’s always thinking of new projects to introduce the love of agriculture and science for our kids — the raised beds, the chickens, the hoop house,” he said. “And she really partners with local community members, which is wonderful.”  

With the help of the grant, there will be more gardening space with additional raised beds, a covered seating area with three benches that seat six-to-eight kids per table, a platform to allow chickens to be off the ground when it rains, as well as more planting trays, pots, potting tables, soil, and other gardening materials. The majority of the garden equipment will be used to make the school’s hoop house functional. 

Lackey asked for Madison County students from the high school construction class as well as the Danielsville construction program to help in the renovations, and Heath and MCHS construction teacher Zach Carithers are partnering together to make that happen. Lackey also asked that all grant funds be spent in Madison County. 

“If you’re going to spend money, spend it in the community because that’s a job for somebody here,” he said. 

Heath, a mother of two sons, said she’s seen first-hand how valuable an ag education has been for her boys, and she wants to extend those opportunities to more children.   

“As the mother of two boys who are both involved in FFA, I have seen first hand the value of this type of learning and education,” she said. “One of my boys is taking a ‘traditional’ college path, while the other one is planning on attending a trade school once he graduates. Both will do something related to agriculture because of what they learned and were exposed to in their ag program. By growing my program at Colbert Elementary, my goal is to set the stage for younger kids to understand that what we do on a school level, can turn into a trade later in life.”  

Heath said HireSmart’s ongoing contributions to ag education and workforce development are having a big impact locally. 

"Mark and Ann Lackey are making a huge difference in our schools, community, and the lives of our students,” she said. “Thanks to their generosity, Colbert students will continue to have opportunities to experience hands-on learning through agriculture." 

Heath said Charlotte, Pumpkin, Nugget, and Flappy are also providing eggs to Colbert families. And students got a little taste of democracy, too. 

“The students got to name the chickens,” she said. “I got them to write down names they wanted, then I made a ‘ballot’ and they voted.” 

If you have a suggestion on a local ag-education or workforce development initiative that may qualify for a HireSmart grant, email 

Article written by Anne Lackey