Student Profile: A question and answer session with Matthew Heldreth
Q&A By Albert Raboteau
Many students hold down a job while studying full time. Few have a job like Virginia Tech senior Matthew Heldreth who, along with his 79-year-old grandfather, runs a dairy farm that has been in their family for a century. Heldreth has worked on the farm since he was a boy, but had to take on a lot more responsibility before his sophomore year after his father passed away. A dairy science major, he's developing the skills he'll need to keep his farm running for another generation, and was grateful to receive a scholarship funded by the DeLaval company. He was interviewed in summer 2010, shortly before starting his senior year.
Where is your farm and how big is it?
We're in Rural Retreat, [Va.]. We probably own about 450 [cows] and milk 200. We own about 500 acres and lease 500.
How are you able to manage a large farm while studying full time?.
Most of the time, between classes, I'm on the phone ordering feed or talking with my grandfather about chores to be done on the farm. Fridays, when I got out of class [at 10 a.m.], I could get home within an hour and that allowed nearly three days of solid work on the farm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday [last semester].
How does what you learn in the dairy science program help you as a farmer?
One of the big areas is the business end. The management classes and the agricultural economics classes help teach how to maintain a profitable business. Even though you may love to farm, if you’re losing money you can’t do it. You also become a successful farmer with experience and good teachers, and in dairy science we have classes in lactation, nutrition, and genetics that prepare us for the real dairy world. Another important thing I learn in agriculture at Virginia Tech is how to grow good crops to help raise healthy cows.
How has your scholarship helped you juggle class, activities, and your responsibilities at home?
Last year was actually probably one of the worst years in the dairy industry. There wasn’t much profit generated due to the economy and low milk prices. That means that our family, which lives off of the farm’s income, has a harder time paying bills. Also, my education relies on the farm, and when the bills get hard to pay so does my tuition. The scholarship has helped me not rely on the business as much when paying for school and it has helped me acquire much needed financial help.
What would you say to someone who is considering supporting a scholarship at Virginia Tech?
Most of the [scholarship] kids today come from families that are less fortunate, but they're young, bright kids that, without educations, will not have what it takes to make it in the real world. Without the financial aid [for school], there are lots of kids that are left in the dark and [they] need the help, like myself. For some families, when it comes to money, sometimes paying the electric bill may be more important than a college education.
This article also appears in the fall issue of Impact Magazine.