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.
Masi Gaither’s candles are meant for the nose and eyes, but they tempt the taste buds.
"My biggest seller is my banana pudding,” said the owner of Hitchcock Confectionary Candles in Augusta, Georgia. “It has a banana slice and a vanilla wafer in there. It’s all wax. My second best-seller is strawberry cheesecake. And then I have brownies."
HireSmart Cares helps young entrepreneurs like Gaither, a 2022 high school graduate, bring savory smells, sumptuous barbecue sauces, or whatever business hopes they have from dream to reality.
That’s why Mark and Anne Lackey, owners of HireSmart Virtual Employees and its sister nonprofit organization, HireSmart Cares, gave Gaither seed money for her fledging commercial operation.
“By 12 years old, I had four businesses,” said Mark. “I’ve always had the mindset of starting and doing things. I drive Anne crazy with ideas. And some of those kids out there remind me of me.”
Mark and Anne want to see the entrepreneurial spirit passed from generation to generation. That’s why they’re glad to provide financial support to Gaither and others, just a little boost to help young self-starters carve their place in the market.
But running a business takes much more than an idea. There’s putting together a business plan, a budget, a marketing plan, and a personnel policy and then carrying through on all the daily details. It’s work, but there’s also a huge potential reward. HireSmart drives home a simple message to young business hopefuls — look at the big picture and the details, then give it a go. Don’t be afraid!
“HireSmart really helped a lot,” she said. “I was able to use the funding to elevate my business more by getting more materials to make my inventory. I was very grateful for them to give me that opportunity.”Gaither said she’s thrilled to get the support from HireSmart.
Gaither’s business is currently a part-time commitment. The newlywed also works as a receptionist at a pediatric office in Augusta. However, she's hoping to make the candle enterprise a full-time job.
"I work on my business all the time," she said. "But I would like for this to be my full-time commitment. I work on it when I can."
She aims to provide non-toxic candles in the candle industry, a market dominated by big companies that sell candles from paraffin wax, which she said isn’t healthy.
"I use coconut soy wax, and all of my candles are vegan," she says. "I really wanted to hit that target audience.”
Her inspiration came from her mother and grandmother.
“They love anything that smells good, candles, perfume, anything,” she said.
Gaither wanted to create something different, and that's when the idea of dessert candles came to her.
"I just wanted to be different when it came to how I presented it," she said. "That’s what inspired me to do the dessert candles. It smells exactly how it looks.”
Like you want to eat it.
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