A dark cloud of uncertainty swirled over the historic John de la Howe School for several years: Would it close? Or could the school be saved?
Enrollment was declining. S.C. lawmakers struggled to preserve the school but were vexed over expenditures. Alumni were passionate about the school’s past and future and were outspoken in their desire to keep it from closing. The school’s future was at an impasse.
Finally, two documents led the way to save the school — the 18th-century will of Dr. John de la Howe and the 21st-century Feasibility Study prepared for the S.C. General Assembly. Dr. de la Howe wanted the property and home that he left behind to be used to establish an “agricultural seminary” for 12 orphan boys and 12 orphan girls who lived in what was then the Abbeville District (a portion of which is now McCormick).
The Feasibility Study, conducted in 2017 for the S.C. General Assembly, found that establishing a School for Agriculture to educate high school students for college and careers in agribusiness met both the will’s directives and the need for future workers in agribusiness, the Palmetto State’s leading industry.
But how could this be accomplished?
It was S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster who stepped in and reached out to give new life to the school. In May, Governor McMaster appointed five new members to the school’s Board of Trustees – new leaders with backgrounds in agriculture and in agricultural education and business — and reappointed a member who was a supporter for the school’s agricultural mission. It was a bold step by the governor who had heard all of the reasons for saving the school and probably even more for closing it.
The board quickly named Dr. Sharon Wall, a recognized leader in education, to be Interim President with the task of turning the school around. Her first day was June 4.
Within two months of Dr. Wall’s appointment, the campus is in transition. For the first time since the early 1900s, there will be no students on campus when school districts open their doors after the summer break. Already, major transformations are under way so that campus buildings, curriculum, farmland and pastures can meet the school’s new mission.
For anyone who may think “why agriculture?” consider this: Despite its small size, South Carolina is a leader in many important agricultural products. The top 10 commodities are broilers, turkeys, greenhouse nurseries, cotton, corn, cattle, soybeans, peanuts, eggs and wheat. The state is second only to California in the production of peaches.
Agribusiness has an approximate $42 billion economic impact on South Carolina and represents 200,000 jobs!
According to the S.C. Farm Bureau, South Carolina has more than 25,000 farms. More than 9,200 farms are smaller than 50 acres.
Of the remaining farms with harvestable land:
- 1,476 are between 50 and 99 acres in size (5.8%)
- 923 between 100 and 199 acres (3.7%)
- 691 between 200 and 499 acres (2.7%)
- 330 between 500 and 999 acres (1.3%)
- 290 between 1,000 and 1,999 acres (1.1%)
- 140 are 2,000 acres or more (0.6%)
South Carolina is recognized as a top poultry producer. In both the production of broilers and turkeys, the state is ranked in the nation’s top 10.
Cotton, which was one of the leading crops in the 1700s and 1800s, is again an economic leader. South Carolina is in the top 10 states in the production of cotton. And if you wonder where cotton is grown, the top 10 counties producing cotton are Orangeburg, Darlington. Calhoun, Lee, Williamsburg, Hampton, Clarendon, Marlboro, Florence and Barnwell.
The National Peanut Board reports that South Carolina is among the top six states in the production of peanuts. The Palmetto State produces about 8 percent of the nation’s peanut crop. Orangeburg, Calhoun, Hampton and Darlington counties produce the most.
Tobacco, discovered by early expeditions to the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries, remains a profitable crop for South Carolina, ranked among the top six states in tobacco production. Horry, Darlington, Marion, Williamsburg and Georgetown are the leading counties in its production.
And the next time that you’re buying plants to beautify your home and garden, consider this: South Carolina ranks in the top 15 in greenhouse and nursery products.
South Carolina agriculture is beyond “big business.”
Dr. de la Howe may not have known the extent to which agriculture would be prominent in South Carolina’s economic future. but he was visionary when it came to his ideas on the importance of an agricultural education for the state.
His desire to give young people an education based in agricultural and manual labor so that they could prosper over a lifetime led to thousands of young people leading successful lives.
Today, Dr. de la Howe’s directives, being honed for a 21st-century world under the watchful eye of South Carolina’s state leaders, are key to the school’s future success.
Agriculture was at the heart of the founding of the John de la Howe School, and agriculture will remain at the core of its future!