Teacher starts student-run meat-processing lab

Centerpoint man shares love of agriculture with students

— The mere word "retire" makes Troy Buck of Alpine chuckle.

He still gets excited when he talks about his 46-year teaching career and the vocational agriculture programs he oversees at Centerpoint High School near Amity.

Buck's enthusiasm for vocational agriculture and FFA have won him and his students a number of honors during his 46 years of teaching. Buck was inducted this spring into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame, with his accomplishments listed as "leading two of the state's largest FFA chapters and affecting the lives of countless students along the way" as well as creating the state's only high school meat-processing lab. Buck received the honor along with Dale Bumpers, former U.S. senator and 38th governor of Arkansas; Harold Loyd "Hal" Lewis of Doddridge of Miller County; Robert L. "Bob" McGinnis of West Memphis and Betty T. Sloan of Jonesboro.

Buck said the idea for the meatprocessing lab came about during a drive with the superintendent of Amityschools in the 1980s.

"We were talking about what we could do to get a bond issue passed, and I said we could set up a meat-processing lab," he recalled. "We got a small grant and help from the community and the kids built the entire plant," Buck said.

Part of vo-ag training includes surveying, plumbing and foundation work - all aspects the students used in building the Amity High School meat lab that opened in the mid-1980s. After Amity and Glenwood schools consolidated to form Centerpoint, Buck said the vo-agstudents were bused back and forth to the Amity meat-processing lab for five years. A school millage passed by voters allowed the Centerpoint district to build a meat-processing lab for the students, he said.

Buck cites the lab as a major achievement in his 25 years with Amity and now Centerpoint. Before moving back to his home community, he taught for 21 years in Hope where he built an FFA chapter that was the largest in the state.

There are new vocational-agriculture programs for students at Centerpoint on the horizon.

The Olds Foundation has contributed $200,000 toward the purchase of a 98-acre farm for the school district.

"A community consortium board controls the farm," Buck said. The farm will include a green house, small fruit-tree orchard, cattle, hens, a smoke house and more.

"My pet project is going to be building an old-fashioned farmstead with an old house just like you would have found at an old farm," Buck said. The house would be equipped with the modern-day conveniences inside, but would be built with the same look and structure of the old farm houses. "This farm will be an ongoing project. I hope they're still adding onto it 20 years from now," Buck said.

He's excited that the project has theattention of Archer Daniels Midland Company. The company is one of the world's largest agricultural processors of soybeans, corn, wheat and cocoa. Archer Daniels Midland has expressed some interest in using the Centerpoint farm as a location where people who have never seen a farm could visit for a true farm experience. "You know, for people from Chicago or other places who have never seen a farm," Buck explained.

In addition to his teaching career, Buck farms 400 acres - most of which is in pasture or hay. He runs about 100 head of beef cattle, operates two breeder hen houses and produces Bermuda hay which he sells mostly in Hot Springs for racehorses.

What if he could only have one job: farmer or teacher?

"I guess I'd have to pick teaching. I've done it longer," Buck said. He likes teaching the vocational agriculture classes because he likes seeing "the light come on when the kids suddenly figure out they can do something." Buck said a lot of students are geared toward vocational education by counselors simply because they are not good test-takers academically.

"It's funny. I've had about 2,000 or 3,000 kids get into the job market and not a single one of them are paid to take tests," he said with a laugh.

Vocational agriculture classes are about living skills, Buck said. "The way I see it is that students have three choices after graduation. They can go to jail, get a job or go on welfare. So, you've just got to work," he said.

Students in the vo-ag classes at Centerpoint can learn a variety of skills, including plumbing, electrical, woodworking, welding, farm buildings, painting and finishing and small-engine repair. Courses also focus on environmental protection, natural resources and animal science. Buck said there are three vo-ag teachers at Centerpoint High School. His primary responsibility is to oversee the program and the meat lab.

Buck's enthusiasm for vocational agriculture and FFA has won his students and him a number of honors during his 46 years of teaching.

The Amity FFA Chapter in 1992 won the National Building Our American Communities award under his leadership for its work in restoring an old school building in Alpine. The students' work resulted in the Alpine Community Center. About 300 students participate in Centerpoint's FFA organization, making it the largest in the state.

In 2000, the Centerpoint FFA was recognized as National Outstanding Vo-Ag Program in America.

Buck has served several years as president of the Arkansas Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association and now serves as itslegislative liaison. The teacher, who says he's "pushing 70," also makes time to serve on the state board of Arkansas Farm Bureau. In his position as a director for Region 5 of Farm Credit Services of western Arkansas, he was honored with the national Phelps-Martin Award for outstanding service to agriculture and rural communities.

In 2004, Buck was honored with the Dr. Dan Pilkington Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education, the highest honor granted by the Arkansas School Boards Association. He is also a three-time recipient of the Ag Teacher of the Year award.

Buck also makes time to volunteer in his community.

He is a certified first responder and helped establish a rural fire department and community water system.

He also helped establish an ambulance service facility in his community. And while his job takes him into a classroom to work with young people, he finds time to visit the elderly in their homes, hospital or nursing home.

Even though he stays busy with many community activities, Buck is never too busy to talk about vocational agriculture, the meat lab or FFA.

Tri-Lakes, Pages 131, 137 on 05/27/2007

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