Trav and I drove a half hour out of town to Tennessee Tech's farm to meet with Jim Ligon, farm director. The University has three different farms; one is close to the University, about 2 miles away. Within that farm is a smaller organic operation. The one we are visiting is the beef cattle farm, about 20 miles away in Livingston.
Before arriving we go by miles of black fencing on the rolling green hills that the hay is grown on and the cattle sometimes graze. The farm is too large to tour on foot, so Jim offered to take us around in his pickup. This property was entrusted to the university by an elderly rancher who wanted to make sure that it would always be used as farmland.
Jim has an onsite farm manager, a former student of his who supervises the daily operation so that he can split his time between all three sites (he also has his own farm to tend to). Though he trusts her implicitly, Jim spoke about the evolution he’s witnessed in students in his tenure. So many agriculture students come from urban, nonagricultural backgrounds these days and Jim finds he has to modify his lessons to deal with the most basic farm knowledge; like how to approach a cow safely.
Besides not having the fundamental knowledge that farm kids do, Jim has also noticed that recent students lack work ethic. Students he has had aren’t willing to deal with the all-hours, extremely tough work that farming requires, and the drop out rate is high.
One of the things Jim loves best about his job is that his income does not hang in the balance of the University farm’s success. Unlike his own farm, if the University farm doesn’t make money, Jim won’t suffer a direct income loss. That being said, part of Jim’s job is to make sure that the University farm does make money each year, and he assured us that it operates in the black. It must operate almost entirely on the funds it generates itself.
The puppy is just being trained to work with cattle, and we watched its puppy-attempts to herd the cattle from the cool pond to the feeding trough with a lot of laughter. The cattle it was herding are the highest quality show cattle on the farm and they are kept separate from the other cattle.
The mentor dog. She knows her way around cattle.