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Castle farm a bucolic setting for horticulture classes

Behind the fairy-tale castle off Versailles Road is a 55-acre working farm run by high school students from Locust Trace Agriscience Center. “There’s so much to do and so many different learning experiences that students won’t get just anywhere,” said ag teacher Toni Myers. “They see it from all angles and take it so much further than just growing the plants. They’re so proud of their work.”

Seniors who finish their certification in equine, pre-veterinary studies, or other career pathway or who simply want an outdoor class find themselves immersed in horticulture at The Kentucky Castle Farm in such courses as Farm Management, Landscape & Turf, and Food Processing. The key component is the half-acre organic garden. Students also take care of landscaping, lavender, beehives, animals, truffles, and mushrooms. “I like working outside and getting my hands dirty. I had never really worked with plants before, and it’s been a great experience to learn how it all comes together,” said Lafayette’s Avery Marshall.

Myers oversees a year-round operation. Even through winter, students can research potential farm projects and prep seedlings in the greenhouse. One year, a group worked inside the barn to build a wooden chicken coop. When spring comes, the teenagers plant and tend everything from tomatoes, squash and peppers to potatoes, corn, and beans. About 4,500 pounds of produce winds up in the castle kitchen, which aims for farm-to-table excellence. “The chef makes a list, and we try to grow those things. We’re getting harvest for about six months,” Myers said. Last year came a new request for fruit, so they added an orchard to produce blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Students also hop on a golf cart to deliver fresh eggs to the kitchen every morning. Occasionally, they even give a quick tour of the property for hotel guests who wander over.

This partnership began about three years ago after a student’s father connected at a business event with the castle owners, and he put them in touch with Locust Trace. “The farm was a very big emphasis, and they wanted to use it as a teaching tool,” Myers said.

The 2020-21 school year looked very different because of COVID-19, of course. Myers has had fewer students, and she modified the class schedule this semester when in-person instruction resumed. Still, she tried to personalize the learning for education majors, wildlife management, or whatever the student’s area of interest. “It’s very much connected with their goals for the future. Even if they don’t farm, they might have a yard or a garden,” she said. Her first students are now sophomores in college. One did switch her major to agronomy and is interning with the USDA. Another wants to be a firefighter, and he calls on teamwork and communication skills learned on the farm.

One thing that did not change this year was the annual expansion project, for which the seniors develop everything from the budget to a maintenance plan. The latest effort is a 14x14 pergola featuring cut flowers. “Every year I want the students to leave their mark,” Myers said. “When they come back in five years, they can say ‘This was our project!’” 

 


(Posted May 11, 2021)