MC’s Ag-Ed program prepares students for ag industry careers

By on April 27, 2016

Today’s agriculture industry offers a wider range of career options and requires more study than many people realize. Manheim Central High School’s Ag Education program helps equip students with knowledge and resources for a successful career in the industry.

“The focus in schools today is STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education. We take that one step further to STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Agriculture and Math) education,” said Deb Seibert, an ag education instructor.

Earlier this month, Manheim Central High School was named STEM School of the Year by Lancaster-Lebanon IU13.

Every Manheim Central High School freshman is required to take EEE (Environment Ecology Engineering), which is taught in conjunction with the tech-ed department.

 

Tony Stoltzfus places a tray of repotted Beaverlodge heirloom tomatoes in the Manheim Central High School ag-ed department greenhouse. (Photo by Rochelle Shenk)

Tony Stoltzfus places a tray of repotted Beaverlodge heirloom tomatoes in the Manheim Central High School ag-ed department greenhouse. (Photos by Rochelle Shenk)

 

“Every high school ag program in the state has to adapt to today’s technology,” Seibert explained. “By working with the tech-ed department, we expose students to both agriculture and technology.”

“Agriculture is a big part of our area, and this program {Ag Education} is a reflection of our community,” said Superintendent Norman Hatten.

Seibert said that the school’s program began in 1985 as Vo-Ag. At that time the students in the program and the school’s FFA were mostly male. Today there are 238 students enrolled in the ag program and the school’s FFA, and instructor Heather Anderson said that it’s about evenly split between males and females.

Initially there were only four courses: Ag 1, Ag 2, Ag 3 and Ag 4. Today courses include agroecology, plant science, greenhouse management and floral design, landscaping and soil science, animal science, agriculture biotechnology, dairy and poultry management, ag mechanics, agricultural welding, and small gas engines.

The program is a state Department of Education approved Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, and school district administration, instructors and members of the local ag community serve on an advisory board. There are two ag industry areas of study-agriculture mechanics and agriculture science-and each has a four-year sequence of courses.

“Our program is not just a classroom-we get kids out and give them hands-on training,” Anderson said.

Some of that training is on school grounds where the department has a greenhouse and small barn structure. Anderson said that in the past two years students installed a green roof and a solar panel on the roof of the barn structure. Funding for the project was provided through grants from PPL, Monsanto and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“The solar panels do generate some energy, Anderson said. “It’s stored in a battery and used to power LED lights in the barn structure.”

Seibert said that there are about 200 high schools in the state that have ag-ed programs.

“No two programs are the same. Our goal here is to match what’s going on in the industry itself,” she stressed.

To that end, the department works with the advisory board and area ag industry experts including members of the Manheim Young Farmers and members of the Manheim Community Farm Show committee.

 

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“It’s important to give kids exposure to the type of jobs in the ag industry,” said Manheim Farm Show vice president Barry Geib.

Nevin Dourte, Ruhl Insurance corporate secretary and vice president of the firm’s farm and agribusiness lines, is also one of those who lend their expertise. He’s not only a Manheim Central grad and area business leader, but he also has a family connection to the FFA and ag program. He explained that his 92-year-old father, a 1941 Manheim graduate, was one of the first Manheim FFA members.

“We want to ensure that students have an opportunity to explore the range of options that exist in today’s agriculture industry,” Dourte stressed.

Funding for school ag programs such as Manheim Central’s was in jeopardy earlier this year along with other school programs during the budget crisis. Although funding is derived from the state Department of Education, grants for some projects have been funded through MCFEE (Manheim Central Foundation for Educational Enrichment) and the state Agriculture Department, which also funds the Pennsylvania State Farm Show and state fairs such as the Manheim Community Farm Show.

 

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PA state Rep. Mindy Fee, who serves on the agriculture and rural affairs committee, explained that in December 2015 the state House and Senate passed a 2015-16 state budget, and although Gov. Wolf did not sign it, he did not veto it, so it became law without his signature. However Fee said that he did make line item vetoes that included cutting 65 percent from the Department of Agriculture’s budget to fund programs such as the Penn State Cooperative Extension offices, Penn State’s agricultural research facilities including the facility in Rapho Township, and 4-H.

When the budget was finalized in March those line item cuts were restored, and what Fee called the “last piece of the funding package” was secured on Monday when the fiscal code became law without the governor’s signature. Fee explained that the $25.79 million in funding for agriculture in the fiscal code is provided through the Race Horse Development Fund. It includes $5 million in funding for the State Farm Show and $4 million for Pennsylvania Fairs.

“Agriculture is the number one industry in the state,” said Fee. “Given that and the fact that it’s so much a part of our community, the huge driver for me in all of this was agriculture, but it also impacted school funding and programs such as those provided by Penn State Extension offices.”

 

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Area gardeners will have an opportunity to see the Manheim Central Ag Education students in action this weekend. The department will hold its annual heirloom tomato sale and greenhouse open house from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 30 in the 26-foot by 42-foot greenhouse. Access to the greenhouse is to the rear of the high school off of Hershey Drive by the entrance to the track.

Seibert said that last year nearly 400 tomato plants were sold during the open house. Plants will also be sold during Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum’s Herb & Garden Faire, 2451 Kissel Hill Road, Lancaster from 9 to 5 p.m. on Friday, May 6 and Saturday, May 7. Admission is $10.

Plants are student grown. This year there are nearly 3,500 plants.

“It’s run like a business. The students are in charge, so it gives them practical experience.” Seibert explained.

Funds raised through plant sales help fund next year’s project. This is the 13th year for the project, and 32 varieties of heirloom tomatoes are being offered. Information about the plant sale and details on the heirloom varieties are available at manheimag.org/2014-heirloom-tomato-plant-sale/.

Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at RAASHENK@aol.com.

 

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