If you drive out north on Sycamore Street out of Hagerstown, it becomes a county road. You're on the back side of property owner by the Nettle Creek School Corporation, home of Hagerstown High School. Pretty soon you will come upon a newly fenced 10-acre pasture and woods with all kinds of signs posted near the road.
It's the "Nettle Creek" Beef Project, coordinated by Nathan Williamson, one of the ag teachers at the school. Right now, there are seven head of feeder cattle consuming pasture. They're also fed grain.
"It started out as a way to use the land," Williamson says. "Then when the new superintendent wanted people to look for ways to save money, it seemed like a natural fit. We proposed it, I sat down with the cafeteria manager to see how much beef they need in a year, and we began the project. It will be inspected and approved to feed to students in the cafeteria."
Williamson calculates the project will save the school money, but for him, that's only a side benefit of the project.
"I'm using it to teach responsibility and other skills to my students," he says. "Someone asked why we didn't divide the pasture or do some other things. We will in time, but I don't want to do everything that needs to be done the first year. I want students coming down the road to be involved in making this project successful."
Local donors helped get the project off the ground. They set out to purchase 10 calves, but due to higher cattle prices and a late start they purchased seven.
"We should have the meat by November, so it will be about right to finish out this year," he says.
In the future, the chapter intends to buy 10 head and supply the needs of the cafeteria for the entire year.
"We hope it becomes a self-sustaining project after this year. We will sell the cattle to the school and reinvest he money in purchasing calves. The kids will get to run a business and that's what this is really all about – learning," he said.