Educational farm facing financial challenges caused by pandemic

Source: Live 5
Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 11:03 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 9, 2021 at 11:22 PM EDT
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DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Ashley Ridge High School’s educational farm is facing thousands of dollars of debt after financial challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Those who run Fox Ridge Farm are now turning to the Dorchester School District Two for help.

DD2 leaders are in the process of preparing a spending plan for $40.4 million of federal COVID-19 relief money. The funds are supposed to be used to address learning loss and academic needs related to the pandemic, and students and teachers who work on the farm hope leaders will prioritize the school’s agricultural program for a small portion of those funds.

A public input meeting is set to held on July 19 where DD2 leaders will present the results of a community survey and a draft of their spending plan.

Fox Ridge Farm has asked for up to $20,000 after the pandemic took a unique toll on its educational experience.

“There were multiple times that the three teachers all looked at each other and said are we really going to continue to do this,” Ashley Ridge teacher Ben Gibson said. “It’s been tiring. It’s been cumbersome and hard to navigate.”

During a typical year, Fox Ridge Farm is mostly self-sustained and operation costs are paid for through field trips and boiled peanut sales.

But since March 2020, the program’s debt has grown, and most of that money was used to keep feeding the farm’s animals.

“We were feeding animals every single day through the pandemic,” Gibson said. “The costs have mounted. The inability to make extra money has been a problem, but luckily we are seeing more opportunities to come up.”

The community helped support the farm in major ways through the pandemic, and recently, the farm turned to its community once again asking supporters to encourage DD2 leaders to help.

“We are asking DD2…and in a normal year we would never ask for this…but we know these funds are meant for relief,” Gibson said. “We believe that this is a perfect opportunity to use some of those funds to help a program get back to base zero.”

Students involved in the farm program agree.

“This program personally changed my life as a student.” Ashley Ridge FFA President Ashlynn Sullivan said. “This isn’t just a bunch of goats. It’s like a community. It’s like a whole family here at the farm.”

In the meantime, the farm has found some other opportunities that can help. On Saturday, Fox Ridge Farm will be hosting an event called Food Trucks at the Farm. Community members can grab some food and check out the animals there from 4pm to 7pm.

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