Richard Stonebraker was kind enough to share with us the rich experiences available in agricultural education at Frederick High School, where he teaches ag classes and is the FFA advisor. It may not seem like the typical environment to grow a successful agricultural program, but with approximately 150 students participating in one of the ag classes and 65 in FFA, he is gaining traction with the message that ag education is a subject important for everyone.
Mr. Stonebraker hopes Frederick High's ag programs are defying stereotypes about urban students. Although in the past most students who you would find participating in a program like FFA would have come from farming families, only one of his 65 participants has a small family farm where animals are raised. This tracks with what is happening nationwide, as we see traditional farming families leaving the industry, while new interest in agribusiness is coming from people who didn't grow up on a farm. They come to the industry with new challenges, and new ideas about farming.
The strengths of ag education are the breadth of knowledge the topic addresses, near constant opportunities for experiential learning, and the intracurricular nature of the FFA Program. Beyond everything that is directly involved in learning to raise plants and animals, students can gain leadership skills and a sense of responsibility, learn entrepreneurship, engage in community projects, and master how to make and do things with what they raise. This has Included starting plants in the greenhouse to sell for fundraising, getting into the kitchen to prepare delicious food that they have grown themselves, and making creative arrangements of decorative plants into centerpieces. It gives students a lot of opportunity for pride in their work. Mr. Stonebraker did say he wishes the name horticulture were better understood by the student body--the term may sound intimidating for a class that could involve making holiday wreaths!
Ag students find themselves In the fresh air sampling soils, or doing a hands on experiment to drop a paper boat into the stream outside and make note of the way it travels across the campus. From this they come to learn about irrigation, and can visualize how insidious it can be when pollutants contaminate that water flow. They are out in the greenhouse starting plants. Since he finds that the greenhouse on campus is often shaded, Mr. Stonebraker anticipates that they will need to construct raised beds near the main entrance to campus. This will create yet another kind of hands on opportunity for his students. He hopes other students will realize that there is much to learn, and you may as well learn all of that while outside moving around and having fun.
Mr. Stonebraker says that he doesn't know if his students are likely to consider careers in the ag industry, but he thinks that those who participate right now can see the practical life skills that the program offers, and maybe their minds will be open to how that applies to career potential down the road. All in all, these classes make it evident that agricultural education has value for everyone, regardless of their goals. Frederick High's students are certainly off to an impressive start--congratulations to everyone involved there!
From the Frederick County Food Council