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Students triumph in farming program

Dec. 17, 2013 @ 10:29 PM

MILTON -- Orin Jackson and Zachary Call don't have many hobbies. They say they really don't have time for it.

The Cabell Midland High School students say they only have one main focus these days and that's farming.

Both come from agricultural backgrounds. Jackson's parents own and operate Kim's Greenhouse on Two Mile Creek Road and Call's parents have a farm in Milton. So it's no surprise the two ended up joining the Future Farmers of America chapter at Cabell Midland and then became a part of the state's Farm to School Program, providing fresh foods to their school for student meals.

"I've grown up around production agriculture," Jackson said. "So when they asked if anyone was interested in growing produce for the schools and receiving a grant to do so, I thought it was a good idea."

Both students turned to their families for help, using their parents' land to grow crops.

So far, this year, Jackson, 18, and Call, 17, have earned $13,900 by selling their home-grown products, becoming the first and second highest-earning students in the state.

At $9,700, Orin is the top-earning student farmer in the state, providing the program with red, yellow and green bell peppers; tomatoes; butternut squash and cucumbers.

At $4,200, Call is the second-highest earning student farmer, providing fresh eggs, romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, cucumbers, butternut squash and potatoes.

Pretty impressive numbers for the teens, who admit they do dedicate a lot of their time to the program.

"In the summer, I worked 7-12 hours a day," Call said. "Since I've been in school, I've been up until 10:30-11 p.m., washing and packing eggs."

Call, who plans to continue this kind of work after he graduates, said he enjoys the business aspect of the program.

"I started selling to schools my freshman year, starting with eggs and then I added some produce this year," he said. "There aren't very many places that are going to give a person under the age of 20 the chance to start their own business, but this does."

When they are accepted into the program, the students received start-up funds for their businesses with a grant from the West Virginia Department of Education's Office of Child Nutrition.

Call even secured his own grant funding to construct a High Tunnel system, which allows for an extended growing season. He is currently growing romaine lettuce, which will also be purchased by the food service program for use on school salad bars across the district.

Although he has had success in growing and selling produce, Jackson said the most valuable thing he has learned through the program is the importance of customer service.

"I like the opportunities that comes with it when it comes to dealing with people," he said. "Whether or not I made a profit, you make a lot of connections and you learn how to be understanding with people if things don't work out the way that they should. You have to have what people want at a certain time and learn how to deal with them to where it is beneficial to everyone"

Jackson said he would like to continue working in agriculture in the future, he's just not sure in which capacity.

"My main goal isn't being a production farmer," he said. "The hours are too bad for that. I'm looking more into the Extension service, teaching or even possibly going into the nutrition side of things."

Aside from the Farm to School program, Jackson and Call are also officers in their FFA chapter. They both participate in the Cabell County Fair and 4-H events and sell their produce to various local stores.

Jackson is also a cadet colonel in the Air Force Junior ROTC at Cabell Midland.

Names: Orin Jackson and Zachary Call

Hometown: Milton

Ages: 18 and 17

Family: Parents Kim and LaDonna Jackson; Stacy and Rosella Call

Activities: Farm to School program, FFA

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