Pet goats and a dairy princess are among the visitors that members can meet at a new Agriculture Exploration (AgEx) club at Eden Prairie High School (EPHS).
The club was founded at the start of this school year by EPHS junior Nora Takes.
“My goal for this club was to help this giant suburban high school with a bunch of kids who were raised in the cities to have a bigger connection to farming and where their food comes from,” she said. “I want to help them understand how agriculture really affects their everyday lives.”
The club’s kickoff event in October featured information about the club as well as friendly goats visiting from a farm near Northfield, which drew a large crowd of students.
Takes said starting the club was inspired by her experiences visiting the Iowa cattle, corn, and soybean farm where her father grew up, and which is still run by family.
“I visit every summer, and we go to threshing shows, farming shows — anything that has to do with farming,” she said.
Takes said that her peers often don’t fully appreciate the complexity and breadth of the agriculture industry.
“There’s a common misconception that agriculture is just about plants,” she said. “It’s really about plants, animals, and water sources, and how all of that interacts with our environment.
“It’s about what the people in that industry are doing to support the entire world. I want to show them that and get them involved in that that.”
Club supported by school, U of M Extension, 4-H
Takes said the school-funded club is working with EPHS activities director Russ Reetz to build their program. “He’s been a major part of helping us develop this,” she said. “We’ve been going to him because we need to work with University of Minnesota and 4-H representatives. He’s been a very big supporter.”
Anja Johnson, University of Minnesota Extension educator in agronomy and horticulture and 4-H coordinator, is helping with resources, lesson plans, and coordination. “I think it’s cool that young people like Nora are excited about agriculture,” she said.
EPHS science teacher Jayson Sandeen was recruited as the club’s advisor. “I have an interest in agriculture with my botany/horticulture class, and I said I’d love to bring something like this to kids that have no or very little exposure to it.”
Sandeen said the club will help students learn about “the importance of supporting local growing things, because it saves resources and helps our environment. It’s important to connect with where your food comes from, the people who do it and how they do it. And many people don’t know how scientific farming really is.”
Shared interests drive the club’s focus
Takes said the club is “very community-based,” and she takes input from club members about what they’d like to learn. She said members have shown much interest in hydroponics, so that will be one of the upcoming units.
“Recently we did our cattle unit,” Takes said. “We were learning about cattle by-products, what they go into, how they’re used, and we did a lesson on how cattle farming can be sustainable for the environment.”
Takes said the last unit in the spring will be gardening. The club is currently planning to create garden plots at the school.
“We’re going to be able to raise produce and do all the work ourselves,” she said. “It’s going to be a really hands-on unit, which is what I hope for this club — that it’s super hands on and not just sitting there looking at a screen.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Jan. 17, the club is expecting to welcome Rachel Rynda, Minnesota’s very own Princess Kay of the Milky Way.
Princess Kay is a well-known name to visitors of the butter sculptures in the Minnesota State Fair’s Dairy Building. Rynda, who serves this year as a goodwill ambassador for Minnesota’s dairy industry, will teach students to make butter, Takes said.
New student members are welcome
Takes said she hopes students will consider checking out the club. “I want people to come see what it is, because they might be interested and want to join,” she said.
lnterested students are invited to stop by club meetings, which take place in Room 333 every other week during flex on Tuesdays, 2:40 p.m. to 3:20 p.m. Takes said there’s also a GroupMe set up for anyone who wants to learn more: Ag.Ex.
Takes said she hopes the club might also help eventually establish an elective science class in agriculture at the high school. “Because agriculture isn’t just farming, it encompasses so many other different areas and topics,” she said. “I’m hoping to raise awareness, what it means, and how it plays a role in our lives.”
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