Faith in our community and American agriculture
By Holly Martin
Last year, my little community made a big decision.
Bucklin is a town of 800 people. Next to the school, the major employer is BTI, a John Deere dealer. There are two banks, an auto parts store, a few repair shops, insurance companies and an auction company. I would venture to say a majority of their business comes from agriculture-based customers. It sits in the heart of agriculture country—cow-calf operations, irrigated row crops and dryland small grains.
So it might be surprising to learn that the school has never had an agriculture program or an FFA chapter. Over the years, there has been interest, but the time was never right to make it work.
The school has many of the same challenges that other small schools do: maintaining enrollment, budget issues, etc. But the school board also knew that if they didn’t invest in the future of the community, before long, the community would be gone.
They started an agriculture program, offering new classes and choices to the students. Over half the students enrolled in an agriculture class in the first year of the program. While I know that I’m partial because I happen to be married to the instructor, I can see the difference it is making. There are young people who are capitalizing on the new opportunities and loving every minute of it. They are learning in a practical, real-world way.
Implementing the new program wasn’t without challenges and questions from community members—and rightly so. “Why do we need to teach ag? If you are going to be a farmer, you’ve got to be born into it,” they said.
But an agriculture program is about so much more than classes for future farmers. It’s about teaching skills that support the industry as a whole—and many of those skills, such as decision making, leadership, and communication, are life skills that translate regardless of where they end up.
Mike Rowe, of “Dirty Jobs” fame, has long been an advocate for vocational training. He challenges students to “work smart and work hard.” Recently, he testified before Congress about the skilled trade workers in the energy field. He has received pushback and heard feedback before over the notion that to support vocational training, you have to be against secondary education, which is simply not the case.
Instead, we need to be teaching our children the value of hard work in whatever field they choose. And a first step is to give them those opportunities in schools, regardless of whether they have 16 or 600 classmates.
Last week was the end of the year FFA banquet for Bucklin—one of the newest chapters in Kansas. Not only had these kids charted new territory, they participated in Career Development Events that taught them skills in agriculture sales, welding, livestock judging, and the list goes on.
Some of those kids will go to college. Others will go to tech schools. Some will be farmers. Others will sell them a tractor, design the implement behind it or loan them the money to finance it all. Agriculture education is about way more than being a farmer.
The point is we have to invest in ourselves. Bucklin is doing that. If our community intends to be here 50 years from now, with a school and a grocery store and an implement dealer, we must “believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds.”
If your community doesn’t have that sort of faith, I suggest you do whatever it takes to make it happen—to teach a new generation to believe “American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.”
Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171, ext. 1806, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.