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Settlement of the Swannanoa Valley may have been founded on farming and agriculture, but kids these days don’t have much experience getting their hands dirty. The impending completion of the barn at Owen High School will help FFA students do just that, close to home.

Students of FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, will use the barn to house the animals they are raising. The structure will help the school fill a void in its agricultural program, said Tim Pasour, who introduced the FFA program at Owen during his 30 years at the school. Agricultural mechanics students have a shop in which to work. Horticulture students have a greenhouse. Soon, animal and equine science students will have the barn.

Pasour credits fellow agriculture teacher and FFA chapter advisor Nina Fisher with getting the ball rolling on the barn.

“When Nina Fisher came in a few years ago, she was really interested in having the kids show animals at the fair,” Pasour said. “We had not done that in the past, and we had some animals housed here in a little coral behind the agriculture class. She had constructed a shelter out of plywood and other material, and I was thinking in my mind ‘we’ve got to do better than this.’”

Lots of student interest in animal science prompted Pasour to use his community connections to get the money to build an on-campus barn.

Pasour organized a lunch fundraiser and was immediately struck by the level of support received from the community. Among those in attendance was Black Mountain vice mayor Don Collins, who was interested in getting involved.

Collins spoke to Buncombe County commissioner Ellen Frost about the school’s need for a barn and lack of adequate space to build one. Frost informed Collins that the county held a 99-year lease from the state on the property adjacent to Owen. She told Collins that the property had an ideal location for the building.

Additionally, the county provided $20,000 toward the materials to build the barn. By last fall, the work was underway.

“We’ve had a lot of good help,” Collins said. “All of the labor has been free. The grading was done for free. It’s been a real community effort.”

For Collins, who grew up in the Valley, the barn links FFA students to the area’s past.

“As a town, we have less people keeping cows and horses,” he said. “I could probably name 10 pastures for cows and horses that were around when I was young that aren’t around anymore. Now kids growing up in the Valley don’t have the opportunity to learn from working with the animals like we did a generation ago.”

The number of children learning agricultural skills at home may have declined throughout the years, but Pasour and Fisher have produced dedicated FFA students. Two of their former students - Adam Canal and Pasour’s son, Tyler - earned the organization’s American Degree, given for those who demonstrate the most commitment. Two Owen students are officers of the FFA’s western regional district. Rising senior Emily Beaver is the district president. Sierra Gerringer is treasurer.

“I refused to be in FFA my freshman year because I was convinced it was only for people that wanted to be farmers,” Gerringer said. “During my sophomore year I wanted to take equine and animal science because I wanted to go to veterinarian school. From there, my agriculture teachers started forcing me to go to FFA events. And I had a lot of fun.”

Beaver’s own experience illustrates why the barn is needed.

“I had nowhere to keep the steer during the summer, and I had to take him home with me,” she said. “I don’t have an agriculture background and I don’t live on a farm, so he had to stay in my backyard.”

Fisher, who plans to keep several animals at the barn as part of the animal science program, said that the barn will give students an ideal spot for their animals.

“A lot of my students don’t have a place to keep an animal,” she said. “A great benefit of having those animals here on campus is that I can work with them on preparing those animals right here after school. It’s a lot more efficient.”

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