by Kate Evans
Berkeley Springs High School students with an interest in farming, ag mechanics or a business in growing food are following their budding interest through the school’s agricultural education courses and programs. More than 100 students are taking the classes this year, which shows a jump in interest.
Students can also find leadership opportunities in the local school, regional and state Future Farmers of America (FFA) organization to help them explore different agricultural career pathways.
High school courses
Berkeley Springs High School agriculture education teacher David Aberegg said that the school’s current course offerings include introduction to agriculture, science of agriculture, fundamentals of agriculture mechanics and agricultural structures. There’s also an agriculture experience program.
Agriculture education students receive an introduction to plants, animal science, agricultural mechanics and an overview of agriculture in the introductory class. They used to have agriculture classes at four levels of subject depth. Science of agriculture is like agriculture 2 and includes animal science and plant science further in-depth, Aberegg said.
Students raise seedlings in the high school greenhouse such as tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, nasturtiums, marigolds, impatiens, snapdragons and geraniums. They grow and transplant the seedlings and work toward selling the plants.
Students have to calculate the cost of raising the crops and set a price to make money on them. They open the greenhouse and sell some of their crops usually around Mother’s Day, he said. Their goal is to be self-sustaining in their plant production. The experience shows them how to raise products for a profit.
In the agricultural mechanics class, teens learn the basics of electrical wiring, plumbing, small engine repair, woodworking and welding along with some building construction, Aberegg said. They also learn about shop safety.
The agricultural structures course covers building and maintaining barns, outbuildings, lean-tos, greenhouses and high tunnels.
Students in the agriculture program take on hands-on projects outside of class and keep records during the summer and the school year, he said. Projects can be raising goats, sheep, cattle, chickens, hogs and other livestock, doing lawn care, firewood production, making hay in the summer, producing a farm product for home use or sale or having a vegetable garden.
Aberegg’s classes teach skills in agriculture to many teens that generally have little background in gardening or farming. But Aberegg does have some students that come from farming or gardening families and allows them to explore agriculture more deeply.
Aberegg has around 120 students taking his classes this year — a jump in the number of interested students. There are around 35-40 of his students that are active in the FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America).
Future Farmers of America
FFA (Future Farmers of America) is a leadership organization with the mission of preparing future generations to feed a growing population.
Members develop their leadership, interpersonal and communications skills and also learn teamwork, volunteerism and citizenship. They also learn the importance of agriculture and wise stewardship of natural and human resources globally. FFA is considered a leadership organization where students can gain leadership skills, he said.
FFA members learn parliamentary procedure and public speaking and run their own meetings, Aberegg said. They also memorize parts of their meeting opening ceremony and the Future Farmers of America creed.
Students participate in regional, state and national competitions that include prepared public speaking, extemporaneous speaking and land-judging contests where they do a home site evaluation of slope, soil composition, types of crops that could be grown there and if it’s an appropriate building site, he said.
FFA members also participate in the tri-county Future Farmers of America Ham, Bacon and Eggs show. Members can raise a hog to slaughter, cut and cure it as ham and bacon and sell it at the tri-county FFA auction, Aberegg said. They can also raise chickens and sell eggs at the auction.
Aberegg has had students pursue agriculture in college and those who have gone on to stay in farming as a field. A few have become veterinarians or veterinary technicians. Many former students have other jobs but still enjoy gardening at home with family or as a hobby.
Aberegg said the growth in students enrolled in agricultural education courses could indicate a resurgence of interest in the field of farming. He’s teaching multiple introduction to agriculture classes this year to freshmen.
Aberegg added that agriculture students will have their plant sale either the week before or the week after Mother’s Day. They try to have one or two kids out in the greenhouse through the day so people can stop by to shop for student-grown plants.