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Committee hears about unique agricultural program

John Thompson • Feb 2, 2016 at 12:08 AM

ELIZABETHTON — The Education Committee of the Carter County Commission was briefed Monday night by vocational educators at Unaka High School about the Drop Collaborative, a new alliance between the Carter County School System and the heirs of John and Patty Drop.

Melissa Loveless, career and technical education principal at Unaka High School, said the Drop family has made its vacant farm available to Carter County students. The farm consists of 26 acres in the Dry Hollow community of Stoney Creek. The use of the property includes the family homestead, which can be used for experiments and classrooms.

Josh Armentrout, agriculture teacher at Unaka, said the farm “has offered a lot of career opportunities to our seniors.”

He said it gave the students “a chance to get their hands dirty.”

In addition to the educational opportunities, Armentrout said the students raised 500 pounds of food during the past year, which was donated to Second Harvest Food Bank and the Carter Christian Church.

This year, Armentrout said he plans to double the crop yield to 1,000 pounds and raise three or four calves. All the food will be donated for distribution to the needy of the community.

Loveless said the program was the brainchild of the former owner of the farm, John C. Drop, and his wife, Patty. His idea was to use the farm for three purposes: to teach students farming, donate their harvest and develop a mentorship program.

His dream has been carried forward by his niece, Pattie Meyer, a businesswoman in Philadelphia. Loveless said Meyer first approached East Tennessee State University to operate the farm. When she learned ETSU did not have an agricultural program, she turned to the Carter County School System, which agreed to join the collaborative.

Loveless said Meyer was the driving force in creating the program. Although she only met Meyer once, Loveless said Meyer sent a stream of emails, established goals and timelines and ran it like the efficient business executive she is.

In addition to the agricultural experience for students, Carter County Schools Career and Technical Education superintendent Mickey Taylor said there are many other ways students can use the farm, such as art students getting a chance to do landscapes and young children getting the chance to visit and pet the animals.

“It has been a good community service project,” Armentrout said.

“We have big plans, if we can get some grants,” Loveless said.

In other matters, Chairman Charlie Von Cannon spoke strongly against the voucher bill now being considered in the state legislature. 

”This is a bad deal,“ Von Cannon said. ”if a student uses a voucher to go to a private school, it means the county loses that money. He said the best students in the county would be the most likely to leave.

“Under that bill, you won’t improve the school system, you will weaken it,” Von Cannon said.

The committee reconvened as the Highway Committee and heard a request from Vista Clark that a small section of Old Highway 143 that runs from Cloudland Drive to New Highway 143 be named in honor of her father, Durwood Julian.

Clark said Julian will be 100 years old this year and has long been a supporter of the Roan Mountain community. She said he served as chairman of the Carter County School Board, is the only living charter member of the Roan Mountain Citizens Club and was active in many other ways.

Highway Superintendent Roger Colbaugh said the name change would be helpful because it would eliminate some confusion for visitors to Roan Mountain State Park. Instead of being confronted with two routes with 143 in the name, the visitors would only see the state highway, Colbaugh said.

The request was unanimously approved and a public hearing on the name change will take place next month.

The committee also heard a request from Doug Combs to have an unnamed, unpaved county road returned to private ownership. Combs said he was willing to pay the taxes on the land and maintain the road, which does not appear on the county road list but is shown on his deed. He said the reason for his action was to prevent his property from being landlocked. No one else has a residence on the road. 

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