Mistake in high school creates passionate aquaponics fan

Ashton Thompson is passionate about sustainable farming methods and leaving the Earth better than he found it. As the senior operations manager for Juneberry Ridge, a farm dedicated to sustainable farming and producing fresh food, he’s turning his passion into purposeful work.

“I’m in charge of ensuring successful day-to-day operations. My job is to keep an eye on our strategic plan, our short and long-term goals and creating an operational plan that drives us to achieving those goals,” Thompson says.

Growing up in rural Stanly County, the great-great grandson of a dairy farmer and an active member in scouts, Thompson has always been drawn to nature and agriculture. But Thompson says he wouldn’t be where he is today without a happy accident.  

“In high school, I accidentally signed up for the wrong class. I thought I signed up for an animal science class, checking a box off, but it ended up being an agriculture class. I had a really influential teacher, Lanny Burleson, who is the owner of Burleson Beef. That class really helped me to understand the path I wanted to be on.”

Thompson enjoyed it so much, he took six more agriculture classes before graduating from high school. 

For the first-generation college student, NC State wasn’t his immediate next stop. He attended Sandhills Community College and earned a two-year associate degree in applied science, focusing on landscape gardening.

“It was a very hands-on, dirt-under-the-nails experience. I learned a lot there and a lot of life lessons. When I got done, I wanted more of the science. I wanted more of the deep dive into the hows and whys,” Thompson says. That’s why he chose NC State.

“I feel like if you’re going to invest the time and energy into an education, you should go with the best, and I believe NC State is the best.”

Thompson became hyper-focused on aquaponics —  a system for raising fish and plants together — as an undergraduate student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Horticultural Science. “With the help of my advisors, I was able to do some independent studies. I did an undergraduate research project and became really passionate about the food production side of aquaponics.”

Read the complete story at NCUS.


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