By Olivia Clark
High school agriculture clubs no longer have a “typical” student in their programs. Fifty years ago, you would have seen students with production farming backgrounds that typically filled the classrooms in most ag-related programs. In fact, female students were not allowed in agriculture courses at that point. Not only has the type of student changed but the programs and classes offered have changed as well. Due to these reasons, programs are created to capture the interest in agriculture of all students today.
Jr. MANRRS (Junior Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences) have allowed students to not only create an interest in agriculture but become leaders to better themselves and the community. Jr. MANRRS is a pre-collegiate national society that aims to expose underrepresented youth, grades seventh to 12th, to opportunities in the field of agriculture, develop leadership skills and enhance students personally and professionally. Jr. MANRRS’ sister chapter is the MANRRS collegiate chapter at the University of Kentucky in the College of Agriculture Food and Environment (CAFE), which hosts the MANRRS state conference annually and mentors the high school youth in Christian County.
During the state conference, students attend workshops, take a tour of the college of agriculture, participate in oral and written contests, and learn what it takes to be a positive leader. The youth also have the opportunity to attend a national conference, which will be in Houston, Texas, from March 25 to March 29.
The Jr. MANRRS program began locally in 2011. Christian County 4-H Agent Mia Farrell launched the local chapter with just 11 students. There are now 85 active members at both public high schools in Christian County and at Christian County Middle School.
Members meet twice a month to participate in civic engagement, gain better pride for the community and land leadership opportunities. Not only are the youth exposed to the field of agriculture but they also learn how to run a meeting using parliamentary procedure.
Farrell began the local chapter because MANRRS developed her as an agriculture student at the University of Kentucky. Starting her career directly out of college in Hopkinsville, she found there was a need for positive, youth development programs at the middle- and high-school level.
“I never knew how much pride youth would have with a T-shirt on their back that read, ‘Christian County 4-H Jr. MANRRS,’” Farrell said. “When I started the program, I did not know where it would go. I had a T-shirt for each youth that signed up and knew I wanted to be a positive role model to youth in exposing them to the opportunities that I had in the field of agriculture.”
Farrell noted that every one in four careers deals with agriculture, showing that career opportunities are available.
“Students have to make sure they are marketable,” she said. “I also try to find the students internships for the summer, so they can get experience.”
Montreale Jones, a senior at Christian County High School, said MANRRS opened doors for him. Through the program, he landed an internship working in the mayor’s office and learned the ins and outs of city operations.
“My resume has also excelled along with my attitude for the community,” the 18-year-old said.
When he goes to college, Jones plans to major in architecture at the University of Kentucky. He specifically wants to concentrate on agricultural landscaping.
“I found that agriculture is like a business, and it’s becoming more technology based,” he said. “4-H Jr. MANRRS has given me some insight of the agriculture industry that I never knew about — farming, business, law and more. I would recommend this program to anyone.”
The students that Farrell started the program with graduated last year, and all of them attended an in-state college and earned full rides to their respective institutions, she noted.
When students talk about Jr. MANRRS, the first word that comes to mind is opportunity.
Mia Davie, a senior at Christian County High School and a member for three years said, “Jr. MANRRS has made me a better leader in my community and president for (Jr. MANNRS at) my school. In the beginning, I wanted to major in anthropology, (but) I am now going into hospitality tourism and management.”
Kayla Jones, junior at Christian County High School, found other doors as well. She got selected for Hopkinsville Youth Leadership program and now wants to own her own business one day.
“Jr. MANRRS has done so much for me in life,” she said. “It’s opened up new doors for me new ideas and new plans … At one point I wanted to be a teacher. Now, I see myself as a businesswomen in the field of agriculture.”
Corrieyonna Trice is a junior at Christian County High School and a Jr. MANRRS member for two years. “Jr. MANRRS has impacted my life helping me with my shyness and bringing out my leadership and communication skills. As a young girl, all I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a lawyer but after being in Jr. MANRRS I want to change my major to do something in the agriculture field.”
Many things continue to change with not only trends in agriculture but with the students enrolled in the agriculture courses. Agriculture educators do not simply come in the form of a certified teacher but as extension agents, farmers, agribusiness men and women, volunteers and the list goes on.
To ensure Kentucky’s future in agriculture, agriculture professionals must do their best to educate as many youth as possible about careers in the industry. Encourage local youth to be involved in programs, such as Jr. MANRRS, FFA or others that advocate agriculture.
Mia Farrell contributed to this story.