116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Rising Prairie High School junior Will Vlasek, 16, spends up to five days a week this summer at Prairie High School caring for a two-and-a-half-acre pumpkin patch planted by agriculture students in the spring.
Will didn’t grow up on a farm, but with the Prairie agriculture program he’s getting experience with planting, harvesting and selling produce. More than 1,000 pumpkins will be for sale to the public this fall as a fundraiser for the program.
The district is working to develop a 155-acre site — where the pumpkin patch and a community garden now sit — directly north of Prairie High School.
Last month, the Cedar Rapids City Council approved a resolution authorizing a lease agreement with the College Community School District for a pedestrian tunnel to link the site of the future ag building and the rest of Prairie High School’s campus.
The tunnel will be built under 76th Avenue SW, between Prairie High School and the proposed Prairie Ag, Food and Natural Resource building.
Superintendent Doug Wheeler said the tunnel will make the campus safely walkable as the agriculture program — and district — continues to expand.
The Prairie Ag building — a $2.25 million project — will house a classroom, restrooms, a greenhouse and space to hopefully keep animals, Wheeler said.
It is being funded by the one-cent sales tax. Opening date for the building is November 2021, Wheeler said.
Prairie High School launched its first ag program and National National FFA Organization chapter in time for the 2020-21 school year.
Last year, the district offered an Introduction to Agriculture course at Prairie Point Middle School and Prairie High School for the first time, in which 150 students enrolled. This year, the district expects 200 students in the program and is seeking an additional part-time teacher.
Erica Baier, agriculture teacher and national FFA chapter sponsor, said the program is “bigger than a classroom.”
The Prairie Ag building will be essential for students who live in urban settings who have “never had the opportunity to be around livestock, grow a garden or see a greenhouse in full swing,” Baier said.
Half of Cedar Rapids Prairie’s FFA chapter members — about 30 students — are involved in their county fairs this summer. Many, such as Will Vlasek, are doing so for the first time.
Will showed a heifer at the Linn County Fair this summer. He bought it last fall when he started taking classes in Prairie’s ag program and joined the school’s FFA chapter.
He won third in his class for Angus heifers and was named reserve champion showman.
Will also will head to the Iowa State Fair next month to show and present on a John Deere G tractor he restored, for which he received a purple ribbon at the Linn County Fair.
Sydney Divoky, 16, will take three dairy cows and eight dairy goats to the Johnson County Fair next week.
Sydney showed her first dairy goat in fourth grade — an animal named Toots she still shows to this day.
“My goal is to finish out my 4-H career with her,” Sydney said.
Sydney also is doing extemporaneous speaking about no-sew T-shirt bags that can be reused 7,100 times versus plastic bags, which only can be reused four times.
Being involved in 4-H and now being an FFA chapter member has given Sydney more confidence and improved her leadership skills, she said.
She’s looking forward to continuing her agriculture classes at Prairie, including taking an animal and plant science course. Sydney hopes to become a large-animal veterinarian.
Keegan Oehlerich, 17, a rising senior at Prairie, feels a sense of ownership over the pumpkin patch.
“We can do more over here than in a room at the high school,” Keegan said while watering pumpkins last week.
Ben Healy, 15, a rising sophomore, is excited he gets to be in the ag program all four years of his high school career.
He likes the hands-on learning opportunity.
“Experience is better than sitting in a classroom,” Healy said.
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