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Beginning Farmer Brings Classroom Lessons to the Farm

When one thinkDonna and Tyree Walks of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they may picture sandy beaches, shrimp boats, and the waves of the Gulf of Mexico. Another scene that meets the eye is the small farm of Donna O’Rourke in Harrison County. As an expert on animals and life science, this high school biology teacher is learning best practices daily as a beginning farmer while teaching lessons about the land to her students.

When Donna O’Rourke purchased approximately 20 acres of land in 2014, she was unsure of the best practices to begin farming. She needed help with fertilizing the grass properly and raising cattle on her newly bought property. She also had trouble combating cogongrass, which is an invasive grass species.

“Challenges that I had as a beginning farmer were many. I needed help and direction on which way to go,” said O’Rourke.

A fellow colleague informed O’Rourke about the USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Service. After visiting the USDA Service Center in Harrison County, she learned that she qualified for participation in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Tyree Harrington, Supervisory District Conservationist worked with O’Rourke on her conservation plan.

O’Rourke was able to receive financial assistance for a heavy-use protection area and a cross-fence.heavy Use Area Pad

“The purpose of the heavy-use area is for the livestock to drink water at all times of the year. It helps to keep them from being in muddy conditions during heavy rain and in the winter time,” said Harrington.

O’Rourke was also able to receive technical assistance with controlling cogongrass on her property and implementing rotational grazing for her herd of cattle.

“NRCS has helped to improve my land by getting control of cogongrass, being able to rotate my animals between fields with cross-fencing and with watering stations,” said O’Rourke. “NRCS has given me direction to help to get my land self-sufficient.”

Donna O’Rourke brings her students to her farm to experience real-life lessons that they may only encounter in their textbooks.

Donna and her Son

“I bring my students out here. They came to see when we had our first calf. We let them touch the calf. Anything to spark an interest,” said O’Rourke.

Justin O’Rourke, Donna’s son, works on the farm by tending to the animals in various ways such as deworming and feeding the cattle. He is also thankful for the assistance of NRCS.

“NRCS’s help with our heavy-use areas and fencing was tremendous. It’s so much better having it clean and mud-free,” said Justin.




Story By: Candace Chambers, NRCS Public Affairs Student Trainee