Franklin County ranks fourth among Georgia counties for agricultural production, producing $408.6 million worth of crops and livestock in 2017. That year, Franklin and its four surrounding counties, produced almost $1.7 billion in agricultural products according to the UGA Center for Agribusiness & Economic Development.
Given these numbers, it’s understandable why Emmanuel College (EC) – a private, Christian, liberal arts school in Franklin Springs – began a diversified agricultural program in the fall of 2016. Founded in 1919, the four-year college is affiliated with the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Emmanuel President Dr. Ron White. “We live in the middle of agriculture. We’re rural, not urban. Really, it’s an idea long overdue.”
The seeds for the EC ag program were planted in 2013. At the time, Addie Thomason Tucker was dually enrolled at Franklin County High School (FCHS) and EC. She asked her father, Owen Thomason, then the FCHS young farmer instructor, why EC didn’t have an ag program.
That October, Owen approached EC Vice President for Advancement Brian James with the idea. James was intrigued, but with no resources to fund such a program, he initially left it alone.
The next month, James was talking to frequent donor Marlowe Collins. She told him she planned to leave her family’s farm to Emmanuel when she died, if the school would start an ag program.
So, EC began studying the possibility. Thomason was a central figure in helping the school decide if it was feasible and what the program would include.
In January 2016, Thomason and his wife, Gina, were seeking God’s will for him in retirement.
“Brian called me when we were fasting and asked if I’d like to start the ag program at Emmanuel. It was just God’s will. God made all these parts and pieces come together,” Thomason said.
In March of 2016, Collins died. Thomason retired from Franklin County High School the end of June. By then, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) had accredited Emmanuel’s ag program.
Emmanuel began its agriculture classes that fall with 12 students, eight of whom were already enrolled at EC. Student enrollment in Emmanuel’s ag program was up to 39 this spring. Thomason thinks it will surpass 50 students in the 2019-2020 school year.
The small college setting – EC has a total enrollment of about 1,000 students – appeals to many students who might not feel as comfortable at a large university.
“You get a lot more help from the teachers because the classes are smaller,” said sophomore Jessi Bell. “My first English class was about 30 people. It was about the same size as a high school class, and that’s one of the bigger classes I’ve been in.”
Emmanuel’s ag program offers a bachelor’s degree in diversified agriculture with one of four concentrations – ag business, ag science, ag communications and ag missions. The school is considering adding an ag education degree.
The ag program has a greenhouse and pasture that supports small herds of goats, sheep and cattle. A new building with classrooms and labs is being developed using some of the remaining proceeds from Collins’ estate. White said he hopes the school breaks ground on the new facility in the next year.
Thomason is the only full-time faculty member in the department. Seven adjunct instructors teach the animal science, ag economics, horticulture and research courses. Emmanuel ag students are eligible to apply for Georgia Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture Scholarships.
“This really gives the students in our area who want this kind of thing an opportunity. They don’t have to go far away. They can come right here,” White said. “I think it’s caused a lot of great connection between us and the community in general.”