It's been more than a decade since Lonni Davis taught in a classroom environment. In that time, many things have changed, but a couple of things haven't: identifying the students' goals and helping them succeed.
Davis began her teaching career at the high school level. Now a decade later, she embarks on a new adventure. Davis has joined the faculty at the University of Arkansas at Monticello in the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources.
She began this fall, working with a gamut of classes ranging from freshmen to seniors.
"This semester, I am teaching forage crops, ag orientation, ag seminar and assisting Dr. Francis in Soils Lab and Precision Ag Lab," she said. "The orientation class is a freshman-level introduction to agriculture that fosters a sense of getting involved on campus at UAM and developing an understanding of the multifaceted career opportunities available in Arkansas agriculture. The seminar class is required for all agriculture seniors. We focus on their final research papers, oral presentations, resume building, and mock interviews."
Davis is one of seven new faculty members at the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources.
"So far, all is good at CFANR. It's been a few years since I've been in the classroom, but I have really enjoyed getting back into the swing of things and starting to get to know our students here at UAM," Davis said. "I've been lucky here with my orientation class and forage class, both being in auditoriums. Having the extra space is nice for both the students and me to be able to spread out."
Davis and her family are well-known in the Fountain Hill area.
She and her family were voted the 2017 Ashley County Farm Family of the Year by the Arkansas Farm Bureau. She's been featured in Front Porch Magazine in its article, "Growing Agritourism."
She is active on the Ashley County 4-H Outriders horse program and serves on the Ashley County Conservation District and Ashley County Farm Bureau Board.
For Davis, the return to UAM is a homecoming of sorts. She graduated from the university in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture, emphasizing animal science. She later attended the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where in 2003 she got her Master of Science degree in general agriculture.
As if this isn't enough, she is busy being a mom to her three children, the youngest of which is now 13 years old. After graduation from UA, she needed a job.
From 2000-07 , she taught agriculture and biology at Crossett High School. She was also a National FFA Organization adviser assisting students with their livestock competitions and leadership camps.
With family demand requiring more of her time, Davis said finding balance was a necessity. The agriculture and livestock events were eating up too much time and competed with being a mother.
In 2007, she found more traditional employment that fit in with her family schedule. Davis changed jobs from 2007-10 and worked at Hamburg High School teaching general chemistry, physics and environmental science.
In 2006, Davis and her husband, Brad, decided to make a professional pivot. They planted Leland Cypress Christmas Trees. Four years later, in 2010, they harvested their first three or four Christmas trees, and the Old Milo Tree Farms and Pumpkin Patch was in business.
Davis is the owner and operator of the farm. Soon it expanded by adding a small petting zoo, field trips for schools, and a hayride.
The business was booming. The pumpkin patch was filled with school-age children who were the focus during the week, while the tree farm remained open for families on the weekend to pick a pumpkin or choose and cut a Christmas tree.
Eventually, the farm added pre-cut trees, North Carolina Fraser Firs from a family farm. Davis said some people just prefer that kind of tree and they can't be grown in Arkansas.
Davis reported the Milo Tree Farm and Pumpkin Patch averaged 7,000 visitors a year, with two to four school field trips daily. Then in 2020, covid-19 hit and schools shut down their school field trips, and people became nervous about going out in public.
While the school trips were eliminated, she said the outdoor setting made it the perfect venue for families to get out of the house and do something.
"Things are crazy busy right now trying to get ready for the Old Milo Pumpkin Patch to open in October. We will be open every weekend in October and can't wait for some fall weather," she said.
Davis said she, her husband and children run the farm. Since the 2020 season was hampered, this fall will mark a 10th anniversary for the farm.
When she isn't at the farm, the balance of Davis' time during the week is spent teaching at UAM.
"I'm excited to be back at UAM and look forward to getting to know the students in the agriculture department, what their goals are and how I can help them be successful," Davis said.
The University of Arkansas at Monticello and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offer all of their programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.
-- Lon Tegels is with the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.