Jana Hunter grew up in Salemburg, North Carolina, a small town halfway between Raleigh and Wilmington.
“Most people have absolutely no clue where that is whenever I tell them, but it’s in Sampson County. It was a very rural area, and I was surrounded by agriculture. There were farms everywhere back home,” said Hunter.
There was a turkey farm right across the street from her parents’ house, and hogs and chickens nearby. The Hunter family did not own a farm, but they did have a large garden in their backyard, and a field behind their house where they still grow deer corn every year.
However, even though she was surrounded by agriculture, Hunter never saw herself pursuing a career in that area, especially because she didn’t see anyone that looked like her.
“In my mind, it was rare to see a female in agriculture,” said Hunter. “Even both of the ag teachers at my school were males, so it wasn’t a space where I really felt that I would fit in.”
Now, Hunter is a soon-to-be graduate — a year earlier than anticipated — with a degree in agricultural education and concentration in horticultural science from NC State’s Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences. She will soon start as an agriculture teacher for a middle school in Raleigh with a goal to cultivate an interest in agriculture from an earlier age and ensure everyone feels welcomed.
A Chance Discovery
Hunter’s discovery of her interest in agriculture was fast, unexpected, and not necessarily by choice. When she was in high school, one of the agriculture teachers reached out to her dad, who was the principal, to prompt her to take one of his courses.
“He came home one afternoon and was like, ‘Hey, the ag teacher came to talk to me today and he said he really wants you to take his class,’” said Hunter. And I was like, ‘Are you kidding? Absolutely not. I will never.”’”
When registration for the next semester, Hunter opened in honors-level pre-calculus instead of the agriculture class. However, the pre-calculus course was canceled due to low enrollment, forcing her to choose another option. The agriculture course was also honors-level, and it fit perfectly into her schedule.
“I was just devastated. I was so upset,” said Hunter. “I was like, ‘How do I get out of this?’ Of course, I didn’t get out of it.”
On the first day of the class, the teacher took them to the greenhouse and said they would be transplanting seedlings for the spring plant sale.
“I had no clue what that meant, but I did it, and I had so much fun,” said Hunter. “The most fun I’d ever had in a class.”
Hunter then joined the Future Farmers of America (FFA) legal procedure team.
“I’m so glad that I was a part of the FFA in high school,” Hunter said. “I feel like that really started to show me that there is room for everyone in agriculture. I saw females taking on leadership roles.”
Following in Her Parents’ Footsteps
Hunter’s mom was also an educator, becoming a teacher felt natural for Hunter. She was even selected as a North Carolina Teaching Fellow in 2019.
Upon graduation, Hunter will start as an agriculture teacher at a middle school in Raleigh, teaching Exploring Agricultural Science and Fundamentals of Plant and Animal Science. She will also start the FFA program at the middle school and act as the advisor.
“That’s really exciting because where I came from, middle school agriculture was kind of unheard of,” Hunter said. “It’s so exciting to be able to start exposing students to agriculture at an even younger age, and it’s even more exciting to be able to start the program at this school. It’s a really great feeling to know that I’m going to have a similar impact on these students as my high school agriculture teachers did on me.”