Sunday, November 17, 2013

What if We Could . . .?

We’ve been attending roundtable discussions around the state to address the future of Agricultural Education in Idaho. To spur "out of the box" thinking, we're encouraged to answer the question, What if we could . . . ?

We start each gathering of concerned parents, teachers, business owners and student leaders with a discussion of the strengths of the current program. So many great things come up: gives hands-on kids a place to succeed, provides public speaking opportunities, teaches financial record keeping, mentors individual profit-making projects, teaches life skills and work ethic, exposes kids to the wide world of careers in food production, etc.

We then go on to discuss needs of the program: more trained ag teachers, a program in every school, administrative support, a vo-ag advocate on every school board, funding to update machine shop technology, competitive salaries, liaisons with local businesses and industry, etc.

Without exception, the discussion comes around to the need to educate the public that what was once “Future Farmers” now encompasses a whole range of study. From natural resource education (forestry, environmental science, etc.), to machine shop technology (small engines, welding, etc.), and leadership training (public speaking, parliamentary procedure, etc.), kids get real world application on a host of subjects. Even agriculture curriculum has expanded to include subject matter like greenhouse experience and landscape design in addition to plant and animal science.

To wrap up the meetings, we talk about current efforts to obtain more funding from the state legislature and how each of us can help forward that effort. And in every case, with six meetings to date under our belt, the “needs” of the local community line up with goals of the Agricultural Education Initiative. Mentoring for new teachers, a full time FFA coordinator, incentive grants for programs that meet quality standards, start-up monies for new programs, and additional funding to cover costs of running a program are all covered with the initiative effort.

I had the pleasure of sharing a roundtable with a school board member from a neighboring district. He said that vocational-agriculture classes drive higher education. What? Turns out that some kids, especially those that do better with hands-on activities and never thought they would attend any schooling beyond graduation, get in an ag class and find out they like school after all. Their interest is peaked by learning to weld or learning about careers in farming, or like our kids, compelled by the leadership opportunities provided by FFA.

At a different roundtable on another evening, I listened to a first-year female teacher tell the story of one student, considered a lost cause by the other teachers, who got enthused when the class dissected hearts from deer they had harvested during hunting season. She is now talking to him about careers in wildlife management or biological sciences. He found out he was interested in learning after all. Stories like these abound in ag education.

What if we could . . .? 

What if I could . . .? 

It’s a great exercise to look at our own lives with the same mind set.  What if I could - read to the kids every night . . . turn off the tv . . . clean out the basement . . . land my dream job . . . start a business . . . rebuild my marriage . . . get published!

For more information and ways to help, refer to: 

or “like” and stay tuned to the Initiative's facebook page: 

photo courtesy of Sara Schmidt

Sunday, November 10, 2013

An FFA Goodbye

We got home from the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, just in time to move cows. It was a great trip. Anna was running for a spot on the six-member national officer team and Seth was there hosting donors. In the end they didn’t choose Anna, but she had a wonderful experience and loved her time with the other candidates from all over the U.S. We were proud and pleased to have her compete in this very demanding preparation and interview process, and know that it will pay dividends in her future. 

Mark and I judged proficiency awards in the beef entrepreneurship and home and community development areas. We visited with another judge, an elderly woman from Chicago who works for an energy company which donates to the FFA Foundation. She had never been to an FFA event and was unfamiliar with the organization until she walked into the convention center and was surrounded by kids in blue jackets, black skirts or slacks, complete with white shirts and blue and gold ties. She said she had been worried about today’s youth, but after talking with students, seeing their enthusiasm and professionalism, her faith was renewed. She could go home now and feel that our future was in good hands.

We hear similar stories a lot. You just can’t be around these kids and not be impressed. And whenever people get on a kick about how poorly kids behave these days, I can’t relate.

Mark wore his cowboy hat to the city of course. He’s like my dad and his dad; a cowboy hat is just part of their everyday dress. And everywhere we go he gets noticed. Of course part of it is his friendly nature and kind face, but he gets all kinds of greetings and friendly smiles from folks. I guess people still like cowboys.

We headed to the hills the day after we got home. I thought about the Kentucky trip all afternoon as we gathered the cattle and headed them towards the Brush Creek field. I was walking with my dog Kate and we had to go clear back to bring up a straggler. We were far behind the herd when dusk fell. There were 3 inches of snow on the ground with more piling up on my jacket. I got concerned that I might not make it back to the road before dark and Mark wouldn’t have any idea where to find me.

It was so quiet, so lovely. I stopped periodically to listen and let it sink in - so far from the city streets of Louisville and the bustling Atlanta airport where we were yesterday at this time. I heard a jet go by overhead. Just then I saw Mark’s headlights bumping towards me through the brush and rocks. What a welcome sight.

I thought of the line Anna posted on Facebook just days before the convention. “It’s pretty exciting, this life we get to lead.” So true.  

last day for her blue jacket

a long way from Louisville