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Why AG Education Matters

“Are you a senior?” 


“What’s your plans after high school?”--the age-old question that seems to never stop for high school seniors. 

“I’m going to college to become an agriculture education teacher,” she says. 

“Aw, a girl after my own heart–Did you grow up on a farm?”  

“No, I took a horticulture class my freshman year.” 

And that’s when Emma’s love story began with agriculture.  Four years ago in a school greenhouse.

And another story–Jacob Shepherd, West Wilkes AG teacher and third generation farmer sometimes has to take over the daily tasks of feeding the cattle when his Dad, Wayne Shepherd can’t be at their farm. 

“My son is 5 years old and he loves to go and feed the cattle on our farm,” Jacob says. “My daughter who is younger does too. My son is there trying to carry the bucket and he wants to be right in the middle of everything, helping.  He tells me when I’m feeding that I’m not doing it right.  Papa does it this way, he says.  He knows. He’s watching and learning.”

The week of March 17-23 is designated as National AG Week and there is much to be said and celebrated because of the agricultural education programs offered through Wilkes County Schools and Wilkes Community College and why there is a great need to continue these programs.  

Why AG Education Matters is a two-part series with the first story highlighting the programs at the four Wilkes County High Schools.  The second part will be focused on the agriculture programs and degrees offered at Wilkes Community College.  A special thank you to each teacher and instructor who gave of their time to share why agricultural education is important and what makes each of their programs unique. 

East Wilkes High School 

Graylyn Bauguess, AG Teacher and FFA (Future Farmers of America) Advisor

What makes East Wilkes’ AG program unique?

“The East Wilkes Agricultural program is unique because of the experiences students get from our hands-on learning classes in Ag Mechanics, Horticulture, and Animal Science.  We are composed of a shop for construction and welding projects in Ag Mechanics, a tractor that is used for our Federation level FFA Tractor Driving career development event that is hosted at East Wilkes, a greenhouse, a blueberry patch with flower gardens for horticulture classes, and a chicken coop with different breeds of chickens for animal science classes.  Students are able to use the classroom instruction to work together and then build 5'x6' chicken coops, 6'x10' utility trailers, change oil on different farm equipment, assemble electrical wiring systems, complete plumbing and masonry projects, plant over 3600 plants for our annual Spring Plant Sale, design landscapes and learn how to install them on the school grounds, and implement good animal husbandry practices as seen with our flock of 6-10 laying hens.  This is all made possible though thanks to the leadership and commitment our AgEd students and FFA Officers put into their work and into making the program successful.  We also compete in other FFA Career Development Events, leadership conferences, and attend State FFA Convention and National FFA Convention to give students the opportunity to advance their knowledge and skills in order to help grow leaders, build communities, and strengthen agriculture.”

Why do you personally think AG Education matters in our schools?

“Agriculture Education matters in our schools because like our mission statement says, "it prepares students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, fiber, and natural resources systems."  It gives students a safe place to learn by doing and therefore they are more likely to stay engaged and connected to their work.  When students are able to measure and cut boards, they can use their math skills and see how it will help them complete a project.  When they plant flowers and vegetables and see how roots grow, they can connect how plants and conservation efforts play a role in water cycles.  When they compete in FFA events, they can see where their strengths and weaknesses are and develop plans to improve prior to the next contest.  I think about one in five jobs in NC comes from agriculture so there's some value there for students to be able to participate in agricultural programs and FFA and to one day be able to connect with another person due to having a common understanding about tractors, gardening, chickens, food and fiber production, etc.  And it's important to note that our NC agricultural production and receipts from agricultural products have continued to increase to over $100 billion so that shows us that agriculture is still a growing industry in NC and we need to keep it strong for the next generation by continuing to allow them to take agriculture education classes.”

North Wilkes High School

Michael Holleman, AG Teacher and FFA Advisor 

What makes North Wilkes’ AG program unique?

“I believe each school's agriculture program is unique due to the teacher leading the class. Even though the curriculum is dictated by the state each instructor utilizes their specific skill set to enhance their instruction. While I have taught multiple subjects and grade levels over my twenty-four years of teaching I had an industrial background before I started teaching. I utilize the skills gained as an electro-mechanical technician in the building products and commercial tractor manufacturing industries. I utilize these skills to introduce my students to as many different possible career paths as possible hoping they find something that piques their interests and leads them to a successful career path. Currently, we are working on completing a project where each student designs and constructs a birdhouse in agricultural mechanics. Horticulture students have worked on sexual and asexual plant propagation and are currently transplanting flowers to create hanging baskets that we will sell for additional classroom funds. Earlier in the year in animal science we hatched and raised chickens and pigs. In each case I try to offer opportunities for students to get as much hands-on experience as possible.”

Why do you personally think AG Education matters in our schools?

“Ag education introduces a huge variety of skills and job opportunities. Many students would never be able to investigate these opportunities without agriculture education being offered in school. I know personally many of the skills I learned from Mr. Bunker and Mr. Walker while taking agriculture at East Wilkes High School was very beneficial when I worked in industry and has proved invaluable as I try to teach my students and pass on this legacy.”

West Wilkes High School 

Jacob Shepherd, AG Teacher and FFA Advisor 

What makes West Wilkes’ AG program unique?

“One of the many positive things about high school AG programs is how we have the opportunity to connect to the community.  There was this local farmer who contacted me the day before school started and said, I have this opportunity for you, for your program and if you want it, it’s yours.  It will help get your foot in the door in this industry.  There wasn’t much time to think about it but we jumped in.  So on the first day of school I came into class and told students we were going to work.  We cleaned out the old greenhouse, emptied it out, got our boxes ready and by one o’clock that evening we had 2,400 quail show up.  There were other things to do like water lines but we had everything pretty much in two weeks. We also have a school farm where we raise pigs, goats, chickens and some sheep. And the AG Mechanics class exposes the students to construction and welding skills, and our students receive lots more hands-on learning maintaining the equipment we have at school.”

Why do you personally think AG Education matters in our schools? 

“I grew up on a farm and took AG classes here at West as a student.  I tried architecture and engineering but I always enjoyed the agriculture side and went back to what I knew and enjoyed. Everything can work together for one big goal whether it is AG Mechanics or the Animal Science classes.  I have large classes and I think the hands-on side is a plus. I can expose them to lots of aspects of farming and they receive real life experiences rather than strictly learning from a book.  Our FFA is the largest club at West with almost 100 members and we had many members compete in tractor driving and ag business and ag marketing that’s part of the career development events at the local and state level this year.  I enjoy seeing the students’ excitement with the animals and taking ownership and responsibility.  I don’t have to stay on them to do something. They enjoy it and want to do it.” 

Wilkes Central High School

Wayne Pack, AG Teacher and FFA Advisor

What makes Wilkes Central’s AG program unique?

“What makes us unique is we offer a well rounded Agricultural experience for all students who take the class. We offer in Animal Science class a farm with goats, chicken and cattle that students can work with hands on and get the animals acclimated to human touch. 

We offer students opportunities in all types of welding in the Ag. Mechanics classes. Students also learn skills in construction, electrical basics and plumbing. In Horticulture classes we offer plant identification, plant care, plant installation and landscape practices. This is done by growing plants in our on campus greenhouse. Students also learn hardscapes and waterscapes through our level 2 classes in Horticulture landscaping.”

Why do you personally think AG Education matters in our schools?

“I feel that Ag. Education offers avenues for students who are looking for trade type skills that are heavily needed today. These skills that come out of Ag can become a promising career or just a hobby but will benefit you in many ways throughout your life.”

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