Learning while earning
Posted on Sep 20, 2021
Fort Valley State University senior Kyra Holmes steers a zero-turn mower, while Crawford County, Georgia, farmer Darlene Williams Roberts instructs her.
This summer, a Fort Valley State University senior learned that getting her hands dirty is not only fun but also hard work.
During the hottest months of the year, Kyra Holmes maneuvered a large, zero-turn mower, where she chipped away at the grassy terrain and her perception of working on a farm. For six weeks, the agricultural engineering major interned at Roberts Vineyard in Crawford County, Georgia, where she gained hands-on experience maintaining the land and inventory. Owner Darlene Williams Roberts encouraged her throughout the process.
This partnership between FVSU students and local farmers was offered through a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant. FVSU collaborated with the Georgia Department of Public Health to benefit rural farmers in Georgia. This undertaking allowed farmers to receive much-needed assistance from some Wildcats majoring in agriculture, who earned a stipend for their work. The students helped the farmers with their daily operations and at several farmers markets throughout the region.
Organizer of the collaboration, Joy Moten-Thomas, FVSU’s assistant administrator for community development and outreach, gratefully declared, “‘All of the places you can go when you are a part of the Roberts Vineyard team’ was my slogan this summer. As part of my endeavor to work with socially disadvantaged farmers, I had to find individuals who were willing to explore new opportunities within the state. Mrs. Roberts was one of the first farmers to accept my challenge.”
Moten-Thomas added she was proud to learn of Roberts’ selection as one of the 45 authorized farmers with the state’s WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, along with agreeing to open her vineyard to Holmes to complete her summer internship.
With 9 acres, Roberts grows blueberries, pears and figs, but her best-selling product is the muscadines. Through word of mouth, social media and clients from her spa, she maintains a reputable customer base.
However, she admits there were challenges when she stepped into this role after taking over the vineyard when her husband could no longer maintain it. “There were days that I would cry and ask myself if I could do this. The biggest challenge was making up my mind and taking the time to facilitate it in my already busy schedule,” Roberts said. She felt unequipped because she did not have any staff to help her, nor did she have the right equipment. “Mentally, I had to get ready to cultivate what I had,” she said. With Holmes’ help during the summer, Roberts used that opportunity to educate as well.
“Kyra has the greatest work ethics,” Roberts raved. “She is a quick learner and fun but seriously productive. She is prompt, precise, humble and works well with others. She is a true leader.” Admiring Roberts for her work ethic and good fashion sense, Holmes called working with her a blessing. Devoting at least 10 hours a week, she learned how to mow and use a weed eater. She and Roberts also attended six farmers markets in Georgia – two in Atlanta, three in Macon and one in Warner Robins, where she helped load and unload produce, set up and greet customers.
The Powder Springs, Georgia, native hopes to apply her newly earned skills in her future career with the USDA. This experience helped her see that there is more to farming than meets the eye. Her advice to other students seeking internships is to be fearless when venturing outside the box. “Try new and different things to see if you like it. Challenge yourself,” she encouraged. Roberts praised Moten-Thomas for her efforts in organizing the partnership.
“Joy is phenomenal. She provided resources for the farmers market program and helped with the preparation and the behind the scenes work. She also connected me to other small farmers,” Roberts said, noting this as an experience she will cherish for a lifetime.
In addition, her business grew financially with great strides from 2020 to 2021. There was a 50 percent increase in income. Due to more exposure, she also gained more clients.
“I truly appreciate Mrs. Roberts for affording me and Ms. Holmes the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of being a successful entrepreneur operating a vineyard in rural Georgia,” Moten-Thomas said.
Roberts wants Holmes and other young women to know that they have a valuable role in agriculture. “There are a lot of challenges when learning something new, but you can do it and be whatever you want to be,” she insisted. “I am excited and embracing where God is taking me on this journey with farming.”
For more information about Roberts Vineyard, call (478) 320-2824 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- FVSU Agriculture College