Boyd Buchanan FFA working for wildlife
Students with the Boyd Buchanan Future Farmers of American program show off their wood duck nest boxes that will be placed in the wetlands surrounding Chattanooga's Boyd Buchanan campus. (Photo: Richard Simms)

The room was a cacophony of noise and turmoil. Hammers hammered, drills drilled and youngsters chattered above it all, discussing which screw went where or which board faced which direction.

In spite of what may have seemed like chaos, nearly a dozen wood duck nest boxes took shape. Welcome to just one tiny slice of life in the Boyd Buchanan Future Farmers of America (FFA) program.

Sophomore Noah Houston is living out a family legacy.

"My family has done the FFA thing for generations," said Houston, whose father, Rhey Houston, funded this particular project. "There's many benefits (to FFA), whether it be college scholarships or just bettering yourself, bettering your public speaking abilities or your mechanical abilities."

In this case, those mechanical abilities assembled nest boxes to benefit the wildlife on the 55-acre Boyd Buchanan campus. Much of the campus is a wetland that often attracts ducks. These nest boxes are intended to create special places for wood ducks to raise their young.

Ross Malone, Tennessee Youth and Education Chairman for Ducks Unlimited, provides some "pre-construction" instructions for the class. (Photo: Richard Simms)

The lead partner on this project was Ross Malone, the Tennessee Youth and Education Chairman for Ducks Unlimited, one of the largest private conservation organizations in the country.

Advisor Melissa Owens is proud to point out that Boyd Buchanan is the first independent school in the state of Tennessee with an FFA program.

"Boyd Buchanan is a Christian school and I feel very blessed to be working with these kids and kind of behold the awe of nature through their eyes," said Owens.

Wood ducks are the only waterfowl species which nests in Tennessee and other southern states. Once on the brink of extinction, artificial nest boxes and programs like this one are largely responsible for wood ducks back decades ago.

Most of the youngsters have no aspirations of becoming farmers. But all recognize the critical importance of agriculture, caring for the land and the skills it takes to do that.

(l-r) Chase Fryar, Acheson Graham and Noah Houston. Houston says taking part in the FFA is really a family legacy and his family has been a huge supporter of the Boyd Buchanan FFA program. (Photo: Richard Simms)

"Agriculture extends into everything that we do and everything we see all has to start from the Earth," said Houston. "You look at a door frame and there's wood in it and that's lumber and that's agricultural. So those mechanical skills and those farming skill we learn all translate into daily life."

"For some of these kids, today might be the very first time they used an electric drill," said Owens. "It does seem like chaos, but they learn and grow from these kinds of experiences."

The youngsters will place their wood duck boxes on the wetlands around campus next week. Maybe wood ducks will take to them in the coming nesting season, or it might take a year or two - after some of these youngsters have graduated and moved on. But they recognize their investment in the future.

Malone made sure the youngsters signed their boxes. He's done similar programs at other schools before and says, "They're always excited to see their box going out here. They can say, 'That's my box,’ and come back out here, hopefully with their parents, to look at that box and see what's in it. Is it an owl nest, is it a wood duck nest or is it a squirrel? Who knows, it could be a simple songbird. But it's been a benefit to see this wildlife habitat enhanced no matter what."

(l-r) Caitlyn Kruse, Jill Bieber and Hannah Pendergraft (a.k.a. The Dream Team) proudly show off their nest box they hope will provide future benefits for wood ducks that call a Boyd Buchanan wetland their home. (Photo: Richard Simms)

Hannah Pendergraft lives on a family farm on Mowbray Mountain. She has her sights set on a veterinary degree someday but also hopes that farming will remain in her future.

"I've had cows my whole life, goats, chickens, guineas, ride horses all the time," she said. "I would love to farm. That would be a dream. Either the family farm or even a bigger one somewhere else."

Owens says her FFA youngsters have done a wide variety of projects on campus such as gardening and even raising chickens - and experiencing life lessons when a coyote raided their chicken coop. But she knows even the bad experiences are good teachers.

"In our culture these days, there is so much kind of wrong in the world around us," said Owens. "But this is right. It feels good and pure - it's why I do what I do."

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