Shelby County is an agricultural powerhouse. That was on full display last month at our first ever Shelby County Summer Ag Day, where we brought cows, chickens, goats, and a pig to Civic Center Plaza in Downtown Memphis. Our recent Ag Day was an opportunity to highlight our county's rich agricultural history and showcase how the agricultural industry continues to expand and flourish in innovative ways.
Because most county residents live in urban communities, agriculture may not instantly come to mind when people think about Shelby County's top industries. However, agriculture is a $15.6 billion dollar industry in Shelby County. Our county has the largest agricultural output of any county in Tennessee. The industry provides more than 46,000 direct and indirect jobs in our community. While there are farms here of all sizes, a significant percentage of the money agriculture generates is driven by agricultural businesses, ag-technology, and industry innovators.
About 150 school children attended Ag Day along with dozens of adults. The children fed the animals, held baby chicks, and learned how a cotton gin works. They spoke with local urban farmers and representatives from our own Shelby County Community Gardens, which was reestablished last year. This year 400 garden plots were assigned and there was a lengthy waiting list of residents wanting to grow their own vegetables, fruits, and flowers.
The children were all third and fourth grade students, an age when kids start to think about what they want to be when they grow up. For many of those kids, Ag Day planted a seed that could very well sprout careers in agriculture.
They talked to professionals from the Shelby County Farm Bureau about agricultural services and with Helena Agri-Enterprises, an industry leader that started as a small operation in West Helena, Arkansas. Today, the Collierville-based company employs 6,000 people across the country and distributes a broad range of ag products and services.
Also at Ag Day were the experts from the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Agency, which has for decades worked with area farmers, students, and families. Representatives from our own Agricenter International educated Ag Day visitors on other employment opportunities. The Agricenter operates a 1,000-acre research farm, conducts extensive research trials, and aids companies from around the globe. They work on projects for familiar crops like cotton, corn, soybeans and rice. Researchers at the Agricenter are now in the middle of a project to grow hops, a crop that's more at home in the cool Pacific Northwest. Success growing hops here could be a tremendous benefit to local microbreweries.
Agriculture has always been a big part of Shelby County's identity. Ag Day gave us the opportunity to have a great time, learn a lot about the agricultural industry, and hopefully inspire the next generation of young people to consider a career in the ag industry.
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