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.