In June, people in Fleming County started a non-profit organization to raise money to pay for an agriculture teacher position cut because of a financial crisis.
Adam Hinton, president of A Better Community Foundation, said that members have turned the initial effort into a volunteer-based grassroots fundraising and advocacy organization for agriculture education in Kentucky.
"Almost everything economically in our county is impacted in major part by agriculture," said Hinton, a fourth-generation owner of a farm supply business.
In just a few months, A Better Community Foundation raised $48,000 for Fleming County Schools to fully fund an Agriculture Education teacher for the 2014-15 school year, Hinton said. That teacher, Tracy Moran, teaches in the new agriculture education program at Simons Middle School and at Fleming County High School, where Hinton said more than 58 percent of students participate in agricultural education programs each year.
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For several years, Fleming County has had a Future Farmers of America Tractor Parade. This year, the name was changed to reflect that it was an "ag education and advocacy" parade. The crowd had new faces, too. Hinton said that because so many people were concerned about the loss of an agricultural education position, he believes that more parents, aunts, uncles and agribusiness owners were at the parade Friday, which drew dignitaries including Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.
"I do believe that they realize that we need to come to the table and say education and agriculture in general is important to the fabric of our community. It's who we've been, it's something that's still part of our identity," Hinton said.
Since fall 2013, Fleming County has been one of two districts in Kentucky designated as being state-assisted. That means the state education department is helping district officials, including the local school board, implement a plan to correct deficiencies found in a department management audit.
Last November, Hiren Desai, associate commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, told the Herald-Leader that a school district has to have 2 percent of its operating budget in reserve. Fleming County should have had about $315,000 in its checking account as of June 30, 2013, but an unaudited fund-balance report showed that the district had $134,000.
Hinton said he hoped the school district could pay for the ag teaching position in 2015-16, but he said A Better Community Foundation might be able to supplement funding at that time.
"I've never seen a community come together for agricultural heritage more than Fleming County," said Moran, the new ag teacher. Her courses cover agricultural enrichment, animal science and crop plants.
Fleming County student and FFA President John Johnson, 17, said he got involved in the effort to fund the agricultural teacher position. He said ag education "teaches students how to be a leader."
Meanwhile, A Better Community Foundation has a volunteer board of directors and a team of legal and financial advisers. It operates under the umbrella of Bluegrass Community Foundation in Lexington. The idea to widen the group's reach statewide, Hinton said, came at a state FFA convention when he realized that other school districts had lost agricultural education teaching positions.
One of the group's main fundraisers is a drawing for a 1956 John Deere 420 Tractor that students in nearby Mason County restored.
Whether or not Fleming County students go into agriculture as an occupation, Hinton said, "it touches all of our lives, all of our hearts and definitely our tables."