Exploring a whole new world
Ag professionals share career options with students
It seems like a basic question, one that makes perfect sense for a farmer to ask during the “I Am Ag” career day at the East Sac Middle School in Sac City. But the answers are sometimes shocking.
“I asked the kids, ‘What do you hear about farmers?'” said Gary Langbein, a Sac City-area farmer who raises corn, soybeans and cattle and spoke at the school on March 29. “One girl said, ‘We hear you mistreat animals.'”
In some cases, this misinformation influences how the students make food choices. In nearly every group of students Langbein spoke to, there were one or two vegetarians. “I’m glad people have choices,” said Langbein, a past president of the Sac County Farm Bureau. “But I also want people to have the facts about modern farming.”
During his presentation about the advantages and disadvantages of a farming career, Langbein explained to the students how he cares for his animals and how sustainable livestock production is. He detailed how livestock manure fertilizes fields that grow the grain that feeds the livestock.
It’s a perspective people don’t always hear.
“I explained that when a celebrity goes on TV and says farmers aren’t doing things right, that’s only one perspective,” Langbein said. “I want to share a different side of the story.”
Teachers value farmers’ perspective
Jason Folsom shared a similar message when he and other Calhoun County ag professionals spoke to middle school students in the Manson Northwest Webster school district on March 26.
“If we don’t tell our story, someone else will, and their messages aren’t always accurate,” said Folsom, a Calhoun County Farm Bureau board member who raises hogs, corn and soybeans near Rockwell City.
Students received plenty of food for thought during Ag Day in Manson, which was sponsored by Iowa State University Extension’s Calhoun County office and the Calhoun County Farm Bureau.
The students attended 12, 25-minute breakout sessions that featured something for everyone, including international agriculture; soil/water conservation; sheep, pork and beef production; emergency medical services in rural communities; precision ag; banking; veterinary medicine; ag mechanics and ag trivia.
“Most of the students have never been exposed to a lot of these topics, even though they live in a rural area,” said Dr. Paul Armbrecht, a veterinarian from the Rockwell City area who has participated in Ag Day for many years. “Since most of the kids have no connection to livestock production, I try to find topics they can relate to, like dogs, to help explain some basics of animal agriculture.”
Students in Manson received a free Iowa ANF (America Needs Farmers) or ISU Farm Strong t-shirt to help commemorate the day, plus lunch included beef burgers grilled by the Calhoun County Cattlemen.
The teachers often benefit as much as the students during Ag Day, especially if their area of expertise does not focus on agriculture.
“The presentations were very interesting, and I learned a lot,” said Trisha Johnson, a math teacher at Manson Northwest Webster.
Ag Day can also open up a whole new world of possibilities for students.
“Kids discover that agriculture is so much more than farming,” said Jenny Westerhoff, a 7-12 college/career prep and TAG instructor at Manson Northwest Webster. “It’s a great way to introduce them to the wide variety of career opportunities related to agriculture.”
Become a trusted voice for agriculture
It’s important to represent the wide variety of careers that are available close to home, added Troy Leininger, who helps coordinate the “I Am Ag” event in Sac County.
“It’s easy to forget how many supporting industries just one farmer needs to run his/her operation,” said Leininger, Region 2 manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation in northwest Iowa. “Whether it’s the engineers who design the implements, the mechanics who service the vehicles, the team at the grain elevator, truckers, veterinarians, ag news reporters, ag lenders or Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff, they all support farmers in doing the best job possible. These industries are hiring, so there’s a high demand all around us for reliable, trainable employees.”
School administrators, guidance counselors and teachers appreciate the time and talents the presenters share with students, Leininger added. “They say it’s good to be reminded of the important role agriculture plays in our rural communities. Since agriculture involves a lot of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), it also fits well with core curriculum requirements.”
The presenters’ passion for agriculture is often matched by their desire to give back to the community.
“We’ve all had people who influenced us as we were growing up,” said Taylor Dorsey, a livestock production specialist who handles beef feed sales for Cherokee-based First Cooperative Association and spoke in Sac City. “I remember being the same age as these students, and I’m grateful that adults helped guide me along the way. Now I can pay it forward to the next generation.”
Leininger encourages farmers and other ag professionals to keep the momentum going, long after the ag-in the-classroom events are done.
“If we don’t tell the non-farm public about what we do and how we do it, someone else will. Become a trusted voice for agriculture, and don’t get weary of telling your story,” he said.