Growing food from grade school to graduation
As most Minnesota schools face major budget cuts, vocational programs often are the first to go. Ashby High School is the exception: Through an innovative program between a local foundation and the school, students will now be able to take a new vocational course in sustainable agriculture.
The Communicating for Agriculture (CA) Scholarship and Education Foundation, as part of a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program project, is partnering with the Ashby High School to create a sustainable agriculture program and curriculum to be implemented in the Ashby, Minnesota, high school.
“The CA Foundation has always been committed to ensuring that young people receive hands-on, real-world experience in addition to classroom learning. ‘Tell me and I will hear, show me and I will see, but involve me and I will understand’ has always been the philosophy of our foundation,” said CA founder Milt Smedsrud.
Recently, Ashby agriculture instructor Dustin Steenblock, along with his students and CA staff, began the construction of a ‘high tunnel’ to be used in the program. The high tunnel - a freestanding greenhouse that uses passive ventilation for air exchange and cooling - will allow students to grow and market their products and explore extended and year-round production techniques as well as stacking and secondary product opportunities. A main goal of the program is to have the produce grown by students go directly back into the Ashby K-12 school lunch
The Communicating for Agriculture Foundation was established in 1981 as a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation for the purpose of encouraging young people in rural America to further their education and careers in agriculture and health care. That goal continues today as an important focus of the foundation.
"Programs like the one being implemented in the Ashby School are exactly what is needed in rural America to get more young people involved in agriculture,” said CA President Wayne Nelson.
CA Foundation Director Ben Schierer said that he hopes the high school program can grow to involve not only the entire school system, but the entire Ashby community as well. “I believe that this program has the potential to involve local producers and members of the community, and that eventually a community garden and other similar projects will be developed as a result.”
Ashby High School ag instructor Dustin Steenblock points out that the program will complement other efforts in the school system as well. The high tunnel will sit in the same area as an apple orchard that is being planted as part of his class, and kindergarten, first and second grade classes have received a grant from the Ashby Education Foundation for a raised-bed garden outside their classroom.
“All of these pieces will fit together very nicely,” Steenblock said. “From grade school through graduation, students will have the opportunity to connect with growing food. From learning the science behind it, to actually growing and marketing produce, students will have a very strong knowledge and connection to their food, an opportunity that is not available to most students in school districts of our size."
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy would like to thank Ben Schierer, CA Foundation Director, for his help in preparing this article.