A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

UK, local schools and agribusinesses team up to combat ‘brain drain’ in rural economies in Kentucky

By Carol Lea Spence
UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment

Brain drain, the term for a community’s loss of intelligent, highly trained people, is a serious problem for local economies in Kentucky.

Often, many from the younger generation leave home for an education and never return, because of a lack of opportunity. Faculty and staff in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment have come up with a novel idea to stem brain drain from rural areas.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture grant supports the project, Developing Entrepreneurial Youth in Resource-Depleted Communities. The team, led by Associate Professor Stacy Vincent of the Department of Community and Leadership Development, chose five high schools to collaborate with a local agribusiness in a marketing project. The team looked at family household earned income in counties that had unemployment and high school dropout rates that were higher than state and federal averages.

Greenhouses are one type of agribusiness (Photo from UK Ag via Thinkstock.com)

The project serves four educational purposes: experiential learning, establishing a curricular approach to an FFA career development event, connecting youth with local businesses and connecting agricultural businesses to core standards. Working with Vincent to develop the curriculum were Dan Kahl from UK’s Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky, Carol Hanley, a College of Agriculture, Food and Environment educator, local representatives of the Kentucky Small Business Development Center and the Kentucky Association for Agricultural Educators.

“Our goal was to see if the curriculum we have developed, which encourages a high school agriculture class to work closely with a local agribusiness, will create a mindset that a student can get a college education and come back and be successful in their hometown,” Vincent said.

The three-year project, now in its final year, asks students to create a marketing plan for a local agribusiness. At the close of the school year, the business will select the team whose project they wish to implement. Vincent said the project’s overarching goal is to take the spark of new ideas that come from the youth and generate enough revenue for the company that they would need to hire another person.

At Russell County High School, agriculture teacher Dustin Gosser said he is excited that his students have been able to work with Reva Carnes, owner of Reva’s Greenhouse. “I like that we are working with a real business,” he said. “It’s a real scenario for the students to learn about marketing concepts and apply it to a real business; it’s not just pretending.”

Carnes creates decorative flowering containers, a business she admits started more as a hobby. “I am excited to hear new ideas the students come up with,” she said.

Jackson County Farm Services Store in McKee carries a diverse inventory, from fertilizer to feed to seed. Jackson County High School students in Candrea Bingham’s class are approaching the problem from different perspectives. Some are examining fertilizer and chemical sales. Some are looking at feed and feed additives, and others are thinking about ways to merchandise the inventory within the showroom.

Each team whose proposal was selected by their local business will come to Lexington in June to present their plans. The project will also provide the businesses with a stipend to implement the plan, as well as to hire a student over the summer to put it into effect.

“We’re hoping that this will grow a student’s pride in their community and make them feel like they’ve made a positive investment,” Vincent said. “We also hope it will develop in them a desire to come back home with their education and be successful.”

Other schools involved in the project are Greenup County High School, Ballard Memorial High School and Lynn Camp High School in Knox County.

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