It’s been nearly a decade since UT Extension had to close its only 4H center in West Tennessee when it was located in Milan.
But University of Tennessee officials promised local 4H officials there would be another.
That process is nearly complete in Hardeman County, and local officials were on hand Friday afternoon to celebrate the nearing completion process at Lone Oaks Farm and UT Extension’s West Tennessee Youth Development Center.
On 1,200 acres in southern Hardeman County between Middleton and Grand Junction, a new facility that will include indoor and outdoor labs, a two-acre garden, accommodation cabins and more gathers and hosts already have students on campus.
Ron Blair is the director of the center.
“It’s really good for me to see the years of work that we’ve put into this,” Blair said. “We wanted to have a premiere when this all started, but COVID prevented us from doing that last year.”
Two large buildings that will have large windows are nearing completion with all walls and roofs above. Next to them is the garden.
“We will have a number of different crops planted in the garden that students can come here for a day or three or a week or whatever and work with them and learn how to grow their own food,” Blair said. “Those who are here for a few days while staying in the hut will be able to enjoy meals prepared with vegetables that come out of this garden.”
The gathering was also a celebration of renewal as the tree that was the physical representation of Lone Oaks Farm was dead. An acorn from a tree harvested at Ames Plantation in Grand Junction was planted and grown on the UT campus in Knoxville and transported to Hardeman County where it was planted next to the garden.
UT Chancellor Donde Plowman and Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey were on hand for the rally.
“This structure is critically important to the University of Tennessee,” Plowman said. “4Hers will come here with dreams of being scientists or mathematicians, and they will receive important training in that regard through our STEM education opportunities here.”
Piercey is also Chairman of the Lone Oaks Farm Advisory Board.
“A couple of people have asked me how serving in this role relates to being health commissioner, and they’re actually quite close,” Piercey said. “I tell my own kids all the time that if you can’t catch it and kill it or grow it, then it’s probably something you don’t need to eat.
“And 4H is teaching the next generation how to do just that and giving the next generation people the chance to eat healthy.”
The cabins still have work to do before completion, but Blair said he expects them to be finished in time to welcome campers in the fall.
Hardeman County students already come to the facility for some STEM education opportunities.
Contact Brandon Shields at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or on Instagram at editorbrandon.