Senior Staff Writer
CORNERSVILLE -- Thirty-one tractors were driven, coaxed or hauled to Cornersville School by members of the Future Farmers of America on Thursday last week.
It was all part of a lesson on their future in agriculture.
"It's an extension of FFA Week, which is in February when we had bad weather," said Keith VanHooser, coach, agriculture teacher and adult advisor for the FFA. "This is to show how important agriculture is. Without agriculture, we wouldn't eat."
Clearly, commuting to school on a tractor isn't the norm, even in a rural community such as Cornersville. However, the price of fuel and corn are intermingled, as the students agreed while reflecting on VanHooser's lessons and farm reports. VanHooser has tractors of his own and estimates he gets 10 mpg from at least one of them.
Much of America's farm produce is hauled thousands of miles before it's ever sold, so transportation costs are a part of the grocery bill.
"We don't have slaughter houses much in Tennessee," VanHooser said while discussing these issues with Brett Rogers, 17, president of the FFA at Cornersville.
Rogers works on his grandparents' black Angus cattle farm, driving a tractor to haul silage, feeding cattle and tending to their various needs.
Cattle "are slaughtered out West," VanHooser said -- and they're brought back as steak and hamburger.
"Now," the teacher continued with his impromptu lesson on the sidewalk in front of the school on Thursday, "two or three small businesses are processing hogs."
FFA member Justin Murdock, 18, works at Jeremy Burgess' business in Ostella, processing hogs.
"It makes it easier on people who want meat," Murdock said. "Fresh hog meat is cheaper."
Such work is what the high school student sees in his future and it's related to his teacher's lesson.
"The opportunities are pretty good now with the price of fuel and food," Murdock said.
VanHooser confirmed national media reports that corn prices are high, in part, because so much is being converted into ethanol to be blended with gasoline. That, in turn, has raised ethical questions about diverting food resources for fuel.
Oil companies have bought up corn for reasons that aren't totally understood, VanHooser said, drawing on his professional background and agriculture media reports. One reason that's been considered is that higher corn prices would make ethanol less effective -- as a result of the economic law of supply and demand.
There are other sources for the basic substance of fuel, including soybeans. Tennessee officials are working toward development of fuel from switch grass, a crop that grows in a wide variety of soils.
For them, market conditions may be as obvious as the cost of living, but taking steps that make business sense are part of the lesson and, to some extent, history.
"Everyone knows everything is going up," Rogers said. "If gas prices were lower, everything would be lower."
Still, he said, "You don't see anyone driving a horse and buggy."
Tractor Day at Cornersville School seemed to stack up pretty well, compared to that part of FFA week in Fayetteville last February. VanHooser reported there were about 40 tractors taken to Lincoln County High School, where the student body is about 1,500, compared to the 300 at Cornersville. The comparison of about 30 here to 40 there might be seen as even better when one considers there are three high schools in Marshall County and one in Lincoln County.
In the interest of full disclosure, VanHooser reported bad weather last winter would cut participation on a day when educators encourage students to drive their tractors to school.
Some didn't drive them, and for good reason.
FFA member John Gleghorn, 14, of Yell Road, had his John Deere tractor brought to school on a trailer. It's a showpiece that he and his father, Kelvin, restored during a 12- to 18-month period.
It's a classic two-cylinder, 30-horsepower farm tractor that was given to him by his grandfather, Carl Gleghorn. It's been on display at Eagleville, where the town hosts an annual historic tractor show.
Grandfather Gleghorn stopped using the tractor shortly after it hit a stump and reared up, grandson Gleghorn explained Thursday as the mid-day sun made the classic John Deere green paint shine.
So the FFA members are proud of their tractors, as are the teachers who either took a quick spin on the highway, or conducted a tour of the mechanical shop, where students have been restoring another tractor that was damaged by fire.
As for the club's president and his classmate at the processing house, the message is clear: Meat is what's for dinner and while Rogers likes steak, Murdock says, "I, myself, prefer pork tenderloin."