Keith McCormick said he gained a passion for the gifts of the land after enrolling in agri-science as a seventh-grader at the old Speake High School.
"I'm not from a true farming family," he said. "We raise beef cattle, and we have two gardens, one beside my grandparents' house next door, and we grow corn at the back of the pasture."
But McCormick, 18, hopes to plow his advanced and agri-science diploma he earns at Lawrence County High School in May into his own greenhouse business and perhaps one day make it flourish back home in Lawrence County.
That's the kind of attitude Lawrence Superintendent Heath Grimes hopes that the Agriculture Based Diploma Track, launched during the 2011-12 school year, will instill in the county's students. Both primary and secondary students participate in the program.
"We know what we do well in Lawrence County, agriculture and farming, and we're building on our strengths," Grimes said. "We have a lot of farmers here, and they're proud of what they do. They are working with the schools on this initiative through our co-op program."
McCormick's classmate, Will Cottingham, is the fourth generation of his family to work on a farm. He works on a family friend's 5,000-acre spread and will earn an advanced diploma, career and technical.
"I'm big in both farming and electronics," said Cottingham, who celebrates his 18th birthday May 4. "I operate a lot of high-tech equipment with GPS technology, tractors and cotton pickers. They practically drive themselves."
McCormick and Cottingham are earning their credits through the high school and the Lawrence County Center of Technology.
McCormick plans to start his college career at Calhoun Community College then transfer to Auburn and pursue a degree in horticulture.
"Eventually, I want to start my own greenhouse company and raise perennials and annuals," he said.
Cottingham plans to attend Mississippi State University and earn a degree in agronomy and soils.
"I would like to work with the (United States Department of Agriculture), develop new breeds of seeds and chemicals, and do research on plants grown in Alabama," he said.
Grimes said, as a native Lawrence Countian and the son of a recreational farmer, he is "amazed" to see the progress students are making.
"Even as I grew up around farming, I had never seen the type of technology being used today," he said. "The amount of precision agriculture that we have in Lawrence County is second to none."
Ronnie Thomas can be reached at 256-340-2438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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