PCC’s Caswell campus agribusiness class, “takes five” at Averett University’s 6th Annual Service-Showcase on November 16 in Danville, Virginia. The busy 25-table expo was also attended by numerous academic groups, college-based, civil and private service providers. (L-R) Agribusiness Program Director/instructor Kin Watlington, Caleb Jones, Instructor Lucas Bernard , Dylan Pruitt, Laura Jones, and Averett University host, Dr. Billy Wooten.

2021 has been a year of high-profile growth for the agribusiness curriculum at Piedmont Community College, Caswell campus. With the help of attractive career potential and financial incentives, ag classes are experiencing increased enrollment under the leadership of course instructors Kin Watlington and Lucas Bernard.

Recently, PCC’s agribusiness program members took part in the 6th Annual Engaged Learning Showcase at nearby Averett University in Danville, Virginia. The event was staged at beautiful Frith Auditorium on November 16 and featured 25 course-based projects, ranging from service-learning, internships, volunteer experiences to undergraduate research. Sample crops from the fields of the Penn-Watlington Farm, where PCC ag students’ plant, grow and harvest, were their feature. PCC agribusiness “A-Team” of instructors Watlington and Bernard, students Laura Young, Caleb Jones and Dylan Pruitt manned the school’s info, interactive table to help deliver their message: what a critical role agriculture will be playing in Caswell County’s educational future.

“It was to showcase what other organizations are doing, too. We were there to represent our Ag Department at Piedmont Community College. Danville Community College was represented, also. Many of the students who represent service-learning projects at Averett, showcased what they had accomplished, “explained Watlington by phone last week.

The expo is designed to provide an opportunity to get the students from the classroom to an interface with the public, describing what direction their studies were taking in their specialized vocations.

Averett’s  Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness (CCECC) “is the regional hub for linking students, faculty and staff from Averett, Danville Community College (DCC) and Piedmont Community College (PCC) with community partners to create distinct learning experiences and career opportunities, and to strengthen the social and economic vitality of the region.”

This is the fourth year the showcase has been under the leadership of Averett’s Executive Director, Dr. Billy Wooten.

“A few years ago, I was invited to take part in this service-learning showcase, and we’ve done it in the last three years. A big part of our presentation is not only our sweet potato project but our greens and things we donate to the Caswell County Outreach Ministry and Caswell County Parish,” adds Watlington.

“It was very neat. There were many other booths and a lot of projects being presented around us. We pretty much walked around and looked at all of them (like a trade show). Oh, the sweet tea was so good! We worked the area next to the nurse’s booth in this huge auditorium lobby. It was a very diverse group and showcased what Averett is investing in. We were all checking each other out, too! I enjoyed being a representative of our ag program and discussing it with the crowd,” says Young.

The appeal of a service-learning showcase such as this not only attracts high school seniors looking for a career pathway, but it gives them a chance to talk to peers, already in a program, and ask relevant questions. The one-on-one personal touch has proven far more popular than on-line chat or Zoom Room video discussions.

“I spent some time talking with Dr. Wooten about Averett giving all these smaller colleges a platform for their service-learning courses. We discussed how we gave back to the community.

There were a lot of students roaming around and I talked to a few of them about what they were doing,” explains Pruitt. Pruitt is continuing his semester at PCC this spring with an ag marketing class on how to sell vegetables and is taking an ad mechanic class to learn to repair tractors! He also said this: “Service-learning has helped me in agriculture by expanding my knowledge of good, agricultural practices. Everyone has skills and the one I can give back is growing food for others who live in food insecurity areas.” Spring 2022 shapes up as a promising season for enrolled “ag biz” students at PCC as major colleges and universities begin recruiting for their expanding campus programs. Agriculture is already North Carolina’s number one industry and is responsible for over $95.9 billion dollars in food, forestry and fiber revenue.

Jones provided his motivation for taking ag classes: “Through service-learning, I’ve learned about farming in a responsible way using sustainable practices to take care of the soil and not harming the land. Sustainability is very important to protect our water sources. Some of the importance is the giving back to the community to benefit others and hopefully make their lives a little better.”

Instructor Bernard: “The biggest thing I got out of it is helping our students. Caleb Jones was in my class, and I wanted him and all the kids to get the experience and understanding of what volunteering can provide for the community and for personal enrichment. We also assisted some farmers with soil samples and explained to them what soil nutrition is. “

He elaborates, “Through Averett, there are opportunities for our program to assist in some of their agricultural projects, so it’s important that we continue to partnership with Dr. Wooten. What Luke said was important: a lot of times, the farmer or the grower doesn’t have time to do their own soil samples. What we were able to do really helped us because we saw a farm that a couple was working very hard on every day. They knew testing their soil was something they should do, but didn’t have the time. But Mr. Bernard called them and set that test up and his class went out to get the samples. The couple was having trouble with growing their okra in different areas and after the soil samples were analyzed, we could tell them where the soil needed nutrients to correct the problem,” adds Watlington.

Finally, Watlington summed up the day’s presentation: ““Food insecurity is a term that the students are learning about along with ‘food deserts.’ Those are the places where folks don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We’ve got a lot of land area here in Caswell to deal with that problem. We’re just trying to figure out how we can best utilize our role and what it is in the community. “

There is much to learn about where Agribusiness is headed under Piedmont Community College’s leadership. When the new Center for Educational and Agricultural Development (CEAD) opens in Pelham, NC, possibly in 2022, local Agribusiness will gain interest, support and momentum inside the Caswell County line. The seeds are now being sewn.

PCC’s online website describes the Agribusiness course: “PCC’s Associate in Applied Science degree program in Agribusiness Technology is based on the Caswell County Campus, serving both Caswell County and Person County communities. Students will learn the fundamentals of agriculture, with emphasis placed on entrepreneurial and field training, as well as the basics of our economic system and government policies and programs relating to agriculture. Students are provided with various levels of course work in the mechanical and electronic field, as well.”

For more information:

Caswell County Campus – (336) 694-5707, 331 Piedmont Drive, Yanceyville, NC 27379