Diane Herndon’s classroom at the Frederick County Career and Technology Center may be a typical instructional room in dimension and location, but not in appearance.
On a recent day, gusts of wind flew through the wide open doors and windows, and the leaves of plants in pots dotting the room were dancing in the sun’s rays. The desks were scattered but full of work projects on top. And just outside sits a greenhouse where students grow the plants that they can sell to paying customers. A little farther away sit the center’s beehives, abuzz with activity.
In Herndon’s room, it looks like the outdoors has been brought inside — breezy, a little cluttered, but full of energy and life.
And that makes sense because Herndon is the CTC’s agriculture teacher. She is teaching county high school students about farming, horticulture, beekeeping and other agricultural careers.
The CTC is a vocational school through Frederick County Public Schools next to Frederick Community College. It has more than 20 skilled programs for high school students, in fields as varied as multimedia TV production, biomedical science, carpentry, and of course, agriculture.
Born and raised in Frederick County, Herndon attended Frederick High School. But when she was younger, she wanted nothing to do with agriculture. She didn’t want to be anything like her older brother, who took agriculture courses at CTC and was active in FFA, the organization that builds leadership skills through agriculture.
But then one summer she took a job working for a florist at a farmers market. And she loved it.
After that introduction to floral design and the world of flowers, her mother persuaded her to take horticulture classes and join FFA. In her senior year at Frederick High she enrolled in the landscaping and design management course at CTC. And now, 11 years later, she is back at CTC as a teacher. She has come full circle.
After graduating from high school in 1998, Herndon attended college at West Virginia University but still had no idea what career to pursue. She left college after one year and became a teller at a Frederick bank, but she was dissatisfied with that job. A co-worker there influenced her to return to school and pursue the career path she truly enjoyed: agriculture.
Herndon returned to WVU and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in agriculture with an emphasis on Extension education, allowing her to teach. She began her career at Catoctin High School teaching horticulture and animal science classes. After five years there, Herndon leaped at the opportunity to teach specialized agriculture classes at CTC such as landscaping and design management, advanced floral design, and a new dual enrollment course at FCC for students who want to combine business and agriculture.
In the summer of 2015, she and a handful of other teachers in the county discussed the creation of a course that would allow students to generate a viable agricultural business in the community while staying close to home. Thus, the Ag Business Management course was born.
“It’s like Intro to Business, but with an ag flair,” Herndon said of the class now offered in conjunction with Frederick Community College.
Prior to this class, there were such no courses offered at FCC. Many students had to venture to the University of Maryland to further their agricultural careers.
“I have a young lady that wants to own her own restaurant in the class, and I also have another student who wants to raise cattle and own a farm,” Herndon said. “It is interesting to see them work together because one day one student could be supplying the product while the other will be using it for their local business.”
Herndon thinks it’s important to recognize and preserve Frederick County’s agricultural roots.
Agriculture, she said, “encompasses just about everything in our lives, from the food we eat [to] the clothes we wear. It’s everywhere and it’s important for students to know about, especially as we become farther removed from the farm.”
In addition to the recently added dual enrollment course, Herndon has also established a real face-to-face business opportunity for her students through the Advanced Floral Design class. They make and sell floral arrangements for local weddings.
Students enrolled in the course get to work with brides for their big day by researching which flowers would be best for their arrangements, determining the cost and delivering the final product to the venue. They also design corsages and boutonnieres for prom nights.
“It’s interesting to watch my students talk with brides and do research and present ideas to the customers,” Herndon said. “[The students] get to see what a florist goes through to stay in business.”
Sydnie Grossnickle, a sophomore at Walkersville High School who is enrolled in the Advanced Floral Design course, said she loves it. “I get to help [brides] create the best day of their lives,” Sydnie said.
Because of the hardworking students and community support, plant sales have flourished over the past six seasons. Herndon believes the CTC programs have become a trusted resource for the community. And her students get to work closely with two local businesses in their classes, Rentals Unlimited and FALCAN (Frederick Area Landscape Contractors and Nurserymen’s Association).
Juggling three classes a day and now one new addition to the classroom — honeybees for the Ag Business Management class — Herndon said she is overjoyed about the new opportunities for her students. With help from the Frederick County Beekeepers Association, the students are preparing the bees to survive the winter.
As for the future, Herndon said she hopes to expand the agricultural program at CTC by adding other courses, enhancing the current curriculum, and of course, enrolling more students.