Photo by Kay Thomas
Farmers Holly and John Moore spoke to the recent GVEP and GCC "Agri-business Academy" tour, offering to share their love of organic farming with local youth.
…AND ONE MORE THING
Agriculture curriculum needs room to grow
I boarded a school bus at The Genesee Valley Educational Partnership in Mount Morris on July 31 to tour Livingston County agribusinesses along with educators, folks from county agencies and farm credit. Thanks Carrie Malone, Director, Livingston County Business Education Alliance and David Sylvester, York Middle/High School Principal for inviting the Livingston County News.
Our “rolling” classroom was an introduction to a new initiative—an Agri-Business Academy allowing seniors in 22 school districts to prepare for continuing education in agriculturally-related careers. On the second day, teachers would be attending workshops with suggestions for incorporating agricultural topics into the classroom.
I have to be up front before you read any further. I am an educator with over 30 years in the classroom and in staff development. My experience has taught me to evaluate programs and determine if they are beneficial to students.
Immediately a couple questions came to mind before the bus started to roll. First of all, Livingston County has one of the highest concentrations (62 percent) of prime and productive soils in the state. Agriculture is the number one business.
Why hasn’t a strong emphasis been placed on it in the curriculum all along keeping pace with current developments and related career opportunities supporting farming? There are high-tech businesses in the county using resources available to fill the needs that were lacking.
I’m not saying that educators should go back to the way things were in the glory days of the 60s and 70s where schools had their “ag” programs and wearing a FAA (Future Farmers of America) jacket was a badge of honor envied by the entire student body. Times have changed and learning needs must be kept relevant. The May Center continues to provide well for such specialized programs.
Secondly, according to New York State curriculum, teachers in all subject areas should be teaching the economy of a region or civilization. Learning is based on problem-solving, interdisciplinary studies and flexibility of skills instead of rote instruction that prepares students for state tests.
In my opinion, here’s what is wrong with the traditional mindset students have about agriculture. You ask any high schooler today and their immediate answer back would be to tell you that farming means hard labor. It isn’t for them.
That is a definition of rural agriculture from the past, and even educators and community members are somewhat in the dark over the tremendous progress Livingston County has made. Advanced sciences, finance and technology are integral to agribusiness.
If you told youth that there is international trading in the millions of dollars happening on the Chicago Board of Trade in a storage elevator facility in Lakeville, they wouldn’t believe you. You might be surprised yourself. You’ve passed this non-descript place on Bronson Hill Road and seen trucks coming and going unloading corn, wheat and soybeans. It is the Perdue Agriculture Commodities Marketing Association that stores and moves product all over the world.
“Twenty years ago I would never have dreamed that buying grain would be so complex,” said Dick Walthew, manager. While I stood in his small office his partner was on the phone making trades and monitoring prices on his computer. Trucks were unloading grain; the product was being weighed and grain probes taken.
What teacher in Livingston County wouldn’t want a classroom visit from biological engineer, Tom Herlihy? Worm Power is an organic worm-casting product based on the power of beneficial microorganisms and earthworms that boosts soil fertility for plant and soil needs. Even better would be a field trip for students to see for themselves.
Herlihy’s knowledge transferred to a new unique business seven years ago in Avon. Worm Power is the largest worm farm on the planet. As a successful scientist who always thinks “big,” students could learn a great deal from him. Granted hard work is key to any successful business, but it also means working smarter like Herlihy.
Herlihy just might be the catalyst to trigger a student’s interest in math and science to achieve his own dream. That to me is what classroom learning is all.
Holly Moore owns Graceland Dairies in Dansville. It is an example of a small organic dairy farm operated by a new generation of young farmers.
Martin grew up on the family farm in Warsaw, received a degree in ag business before going to New Zealand to learn methods of grazing cows. She married John, also from a farm family in Henrietta, in a celebration out in the paddock.
“I have a lot of close vendors — crop consultants, machinery repair places within an hour. Time is money to us,” said Moore. The unique microclimate in Dansville’s valley has the proper conditions for her to locate the dairy.
Moore epitomizes the spunky nature of someone willing to expand her knowledge to a worldwide view. She challenged the practices of her parents, although they are vital when she needs to consult with seasoned farmers.
Needless to say, I stepped off the bus inspired by the forward-thinking business owners that I met. I hope that teachers will dig in with fresh ideas that will break old stereotypes of agriculture.
Livingston County offers a field day for educating youth about agribusiness right in their backyard.