Guest Columnist

Iowa City schools need farmers

A 16-year-old demonstrator washes one of her cows at the Johnson County Fair in Iowa City on July 28, 2015. (KC McGinnis / The Gazette)
A 16-year-old demonstrator washes one of her cows at the Johnson County Fair in Iowa City on July 28, 2015. (KC McGinnis / The Gazette)
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University of Iowa Hall of Fame football coach, Hayden Fry, started many traditions during his tenure with Iowa: the Swarm, the Hokey Pokey, and the ANF stickers on Hawkeye football helmets. He did it at a time when our nation and our state faced a tremendous farm crisis with many farmers and farms losing their land and their livelihood.

Coach Fry recognized the challenges facing many of his players and his fan base during that time. By placing a simple yellow circle 2.5 inches wide with the letters ANF, he forever showed America’s need for farmers. That tradition started in 1985 and continues to this day.

The need for farmers and a strong agricultural sector in our state is vital to our economy and our way of life. Changes in agriculture and food production have been dramatic since 1985. We can see the signs of it in our own communities and our nation. The local food movement and the strong presence of our own local farmers market and local food producers is changing how we view food and the people who produce it. The need for hard working, highly educated, and motivated food producers has never been greater. Competition, locally and internationally, demands more to be produced with less and with greater quality and safety. The need to provide opportunities and pathways for our students to these types of careers will never cease to exist.

Nationally, FFA is in all 50 states with 649,355 students in 7,859 chapters and in the state of Iowa, 14,800 students in 235 chapters. The ICCSD has never offered Vocational agriculture or FFA for our students or community. Yet many who graduate from our schools go on to careers in agricultural related fields. The demand for agricultural workers is not limited to just farmers and herdsmen; it includes the need for agricultural engineers, chemists, business, finance, programmers, transportation, manufacturing, etc. The Press Citizen of January 12 highlighted an Iowa business school entrepreneur whose contributions to agriculture have won him a $30,000 prize from the Iowa Farm Bureau Association.

Vocational Agriculture and FFA offers tremendous opportunities to all students from any background and any walk of life. The vast majority of students involved in FFA today do not live or work on farms. The curriculum and opportunities provided by Vocational Agriculture and FFA will help every student in every occupational pursuit.

There are three major components to Vocational Agricultural education:

1. Classroom/laboratory instruction: students learn concepts and theories dealing with a broad spectrum of agricultural and agribusiness topics. The classroom is followed by the laboratory mode of instruction where concepts and theories are carried through to their application; the students are taught “hands-on” skills that ensure that the skills learned are practical and usable.

2. Supervised agricultural experience programs (SAEP) where both classroom and laboratory instructions are put into practice. In this approach the students work and learn in real life situations where they obtain on-the-job skills. SAEP can vary from the traditional home projects to entrepreneurship or cooperative work experience in production or agribusiness.

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3. FFA (Student leadership organizations, personal growth, career success and engagement) provides an avenue for developing leadership skills. As an integral, intra-curricular component of the agricultural education program, FFA has numerous systems to deliver instruction in leadership. In addition, FFA provides incentives for improved student performance through its awards program. Teachers of agriculture have always stressed the problem solving and decision-making approach to teaching. Through this approach, students are better equipped to cope with changes that are constantly occurring, not only in agricultural industry but also in life in general.

The ICCSD Board will discuss the potential addition of Vocational Agriculture and FFA at the January 23 board meeting.

Vocational agriculture and FFA provide more to our students and community than cows, sows and plows. Let’s start our own tradition by valuing Vocational Agriculture and FFA in our community.

• Phil Hemingway is a member of the Iowa City school board. Comments: Phil.Hemingway@iowacityschools.org

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