A greenhouse where special needs students can get hands-on experience running a business is up and running at Heritage High School, but it needs this community’s help.

A livestock facility at the same school is just as important to students in the agriculture field. Feed for the animals can get expensive, and should something like a water line break, that can put the budget into the red.

Keperly Camet is the Comprehensive Development Classroom teacher whose students have spent the last three years raising funds to get the greenhouse into shape and growing things. Jon Waters, agriculture teacher, oversees the livestock facility where livestock is raised, shown and then sold.

These two instructors have come together this spring to host a fundraiser that will benefit both programs. The Heritage Hoedown is set to take place on Saturday, April 2, at the school. Proceeds will go to buy greenhouse supplies, feed and other necessities for the livestock barn and upkeep for both.

The first little piggy went to school

Waters’ and Camet’s students established a relationship about two years ago when Waters asked Camet if her students might be interested in raising and showing pigs. Camet accepted the challenge, and her students have loved it. They purchase a pig every year, spend time raising it and also competing in shows before selling it to repeat again next year.

Local musicians Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle, a husband and wife duo, had also become friends with Camet and her classroom. The couple has come to sing and play for the CDC students on numerous occasions. So when Camet and the two talented musicians started talking about a project together, it didn’t take long before they arrived at this spring fundraiser.

“We have been raising money for the greenhouse for about three years,” Camet said. “We sold candles and did other things. We would like to take the next step and grow and sell the surplus. We need to finish it up structurally.”

It would take about $2,000 to get the greenhouse where Camet and her students want it to be, but that doesn’t include maintenance or additional equipment, etc.

The goal with the greenhouse, Camet explained, is to work on life skills and employment skills. “This type of hands-on curriculum is right up our alley,” this teacher said.

Her students have sold some crocuses already. They hope to be able to participate in the local farmers’ market, too. Marketing skills, math and money will all come into play for these moderately to severely disabled students.

Maintaining a livestock barn

Waters said their biggest needs are the day-to-day operating expenses associated with the livestock facility. “Feed being the No. 1 need,” he said. “That’s our biggest expense.”

On this particular day, Waters was going to take some of his students to Lebanon for a show and sale. Thorn Cooper, a senior, was one of those making the trip.

He serves as vice-president of the Future Farmers of America chapter at Heritage High. His choice of career — — veterinarian.

“I didn’t really know what to do until I started in the ag program,” Cooper said. “Mr. Waters is the one who got me interested. I want to go to the University of Tennessee.”

Jasmine Blankenship is a sophomore in the ag program at HHS. She also has aspirations to become a veterinarian. Large animals will be her specialty.

Waters said there have been several HHS students in his program that chose veterinary medicine as their careers. Some go in a different direction.

“The big one is ‘I want to be a vet,’” Waters said but there are so many others. There is the ag business side and plenty of technological advances in ag. You don’t have to like manure and dirt to get involved in agriculture.”

Entertainment with purpose

Camet is excited about the music side of the Heritage Hoedown. The groups lined up so far are Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle, Jay Clark, Abigail Sinders, Gritte Fritter, Rebel Mountain Band, Erin Ott and James Albright. There should be music all generations will enjoy, Camet said

Waters and his students will be responsible for the barbecue.

These two programs have definitely benefitted from coming together during the school day. They are now asking Blount County to join them.

“We really need more community,” Camet said. “I feel like we don’t have enough events where we invite the community in. We do a lot of cool stuff here.”

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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