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Community supports new ag education program

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 04/11/2013 9:05 AM

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WINTHROP, Iowa —Winthrop pork producer and East Buchanan school board member Aaron Cook remembers community members talking about starting an ag program back when he was a student at the school.

"People always said that there wasn't money in the budget," Cook said. "Now I've got kids in the school, and the community was still saying that we need vo ag. It was both kids in town and kids from the farm who wanted the program."

Cook said small rural school districts increasingly have to think outside the box to make things work. The way East Buchanan was able to create an agriculture and FFA program, which started this fall, was that a biology position opened up last spring, and the district was able to hire Brittney Zumbach who had a degree in agricultural education but also had an endorsement to teach biology. She spends part of the day teaching biology and part of the day teaching ag courses.

"We've had a pretty good transition and what we're hoping is that as the numbers grow, Brittney will be able to teach just agriculture," Cook said. "For right now, all the pieces fit together."

With all the technology in agriculture there are so many opportunities for young people, both those from farms as well as those from town, Cook said. Young people who choose careers outside of agriculture will have a connection to agriculture, and will make good spokespeople for the industry.

"We've had great community involvement," said Ken Kehrli, a pork producer whose daughter, Kendra, is president of the new FFA Chapter. "Our superintendent Dan Fox and high school principal Tom Mossman, along with a tremendously supportive school board, were instrumental in hiring Brittney and launching our program."

Kehrli said that with the growing volume of agricultural production and processing in the area and state, along with all the related support industries, there are many opportunities for young people.

"FFA will help them with a variety of skills to grow personally," Kehrli said. "Hopefully many of our talented kids will choose to seek these expanding careers locally or within the state, and raise their own families here."

Kehrli said community members have offered time, talents and funds.

"Of course our new program needs more of all of the aforementioned," he said.

He urged anyone interested in helping to contact Zumbach at East Buchanan.

Cook said many school districts have an FFA alumni group. Since the ag program is new at East Buchanan, there are no alumni, so a Friends of FFA was created.

Kehrli describes the group as "area producers, business people, teachers, administrators, parents, and interested community members who are excited to be involved in such a positive program."

"This is our FFA booster club just like we have booster clubs for athletics, music and fine arts," Cook said.

There is growing interest in raising funds for a greenhouse that could be used as a teaching tool and also for fundraising, Cook said.