Five-day institute gives teachers an opportunity to learn about agriculture | TheFencePost.com

Five-day institute gives teachers an opportunity to learn about agriculture

Hilary Marrs, of Marrs Milky Way Dairy in Ault, Colo., spoke to participants about all aspects of the dairy and milk production.
Courtesy of Jennifer Scharpe

In Jolene Adams’ high school botany class at University Schools in Greeley, Colo., she sees all levels of comfort while students plant and get their hands dirty. She estimates about 10 percent have direct connections to production agriculture.

With her own experience around visiting her uncle and grandparent’s family farm as a child, she saw the value in the Colorado Foundation for Agriculture’s Summer AgriCULTURE Institute.

Designed for teachers, the five-day institute’s Greeley-area location brought 22 teachers together to learn about agriculture and how to translate their new-found knowledge into the classroom.

Jennifer Scharpe, executive director of the Colorado Foundation for Agriculture, said the goal is to give a full circle connection for commodities, this year concentrating on corn. Wendy White from the Colorado Department of Agriculture spoke about the Colorado Proud program, Dr. Rebecca Larson from Western Sugar spoke to the group about plant breeding, the group visited Corteva Agriscience Research Farm in La Salle, and the Front Range Energy’s ethanol plant in Windsor, and Agfinity’s Eaton campus.

Participants learned about beef and dairy production, respectively, at Coyote Ridge Herefords and Marrs Milky Way Dairy. Adams said the teachers not only met some of the “all-stars” in agriculture but met representatives of the wide variety of careers available within agriculture. That wide variety of careers within the agriculture pathway is what she hopes to communicate to students.

“Every single person we interacted with was generous with the resources, the hospitality was outstanding, but they were so knowledgeable,” she said. “My family has farmed in the area for a long time, so I’ve always had the knowledge that farmers are very intelligent people. Not only are they intelligent, but they’re problem solvers and they have to look at so many different situations and figure out what’s going to be the most successful solution for this particular thing and it changes all the time. That was reinforced in all of our interactions. The awareness and insight was refreshing and fun to be around.”

‘EDUCATE NOT MANIPULATE’

While she said the learning was without many controversial topics, Adams said the presenters were transparent and generous with their insight, truly there “to educate, not manipulate.”

Of the stops, Adams said she appreciated all of the hosts but four places stood out in particular. Coyote Ridge Herefords stood out, she said, because it offered an understanding of quality cattle care with low environmental impact, and how a seemingly small family operation is involved in global agriculture. Offering diversity to the stops, she said she enjoyed Stargazer Ranch, an alpaca operation. She was also struck by Marrs Milky Way Dairy, a robotic dairy that she said was the picture of efficiency and cow comfort.

“My work experience was with Larry Lempka south of Berthoud,” she said. “I got to go out to the farm. To me, he epitomized that intelligent, problem solving, you never know what’s going to happen next but you have to figure out how to get through it kind of a guy.”

She said Limpka spoke about the effects and recovery from the 2013 flood and his work with the coalition to rebuild the Little Thompson. He also explained how he has a small section of land where he tests the water volume and quality as it enters the area, and again as it returns to the river. She said she was impressed that the water quality was improved by 1,600 percent, a true demonstration of how farmers are caretakers of the land without being regulated to do so.

Sharpe said time is spent exploring prepared lesson plans through National Center for Ag Literacy and making connections between the plans and the stops from the week, knowing teachers are more likely to incorporate agriculture and natural resources topics in their classrooms if they know a little about it.

“I’ll create a lesson plan to fulfill my obligation for my class but, really going through things and seeing how I can integrate it in my school is the more important thing for me,” Adams said. “I’m looking at trying to make agriculture as a pathway available to our students. To me, one of the most important things I want them to understand is this isn’t a single career, there are so many different types of careers in this career path.” ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at rgabel@thefencepost.com or (970) 392-4410.