I spent the middle of this Saturday in my hometown of Wilcox and the school building I attended from kindergarten through high school graduation.
The memories that flood my mind each time I step into that building are almost overwhelming. I wish I had appreciated those wonderful years and the great teachers, administrators and entire community more at the time.
Today’s event was a groundbreaking program for a new free-standing agriculture education building that is long overdue. The space now holding a shop and small classroom on the east side of the school building first was used in the 1949-1950 school year.
There are three – count ’em three – outlets in the classroom and the shop is too small to allow more than one student-FFA member to work on a welding, wood or mechanics project at a time.
Today, Wilcox is part of the consolidated Wilcox-Hildreth Public School. The elementary and high school classes are in Wilcox and middle school is at Hildreth, about 10 miles to the southeast.
A small group of farmers, parents and agribusiness people first talked about the need for a new ag ed building around 2008. They started fund-raising in 2013 and still need $100,000 to $120,000 more than already has been contributed by area businesses, the school district and many individual donors.
A $500,000-plus project is a lot for a small community when most of it will come from donations.
The big steel building can be up in about 60 days when all the money is in hand, which would allow this year’s seniors to have some time in it. Otherwise, they hope is to have it ready for the 2016-2017 school year.
Today’s program was in the old gym – the lunchroom, all-purpose room today. The FFA kids served a meal of roast beef sandwiches, hash brown casserole, and donated salads, pies and other desserts.
As is common today, half or more of the Wilcox-Hildreth FFA members are girls, including the president who spoke at the groundbreaking program. That’s progress from my early 1970s high school years when no girls were in ag classes or in FFA. There was no rule against it. It was just one of those “never done it” things.
Even more preposterous then was the idea of a female ag teacher. Wilcox-Hildreth has one now as do a half dozen other area schools. Most of these young women are in the first few years as teachers and several are the first teachers at schools with new ag ed programs.
That includes NPW member Barb Batie’s daughter Julianna who is the new teacher at Wood River after having taught a couple of years in North Dakota.
They represent progress in education and agriculture, and reflect modern women’s roles in both.
Women back to pioneer days have been full-fledged partners in family farm or ranch businesses, often doing as much outdoor work with crops an livestock as indoor work.
They were considered “just farm wives” in the olden days, but no one would use that label to describe Barb or any other female farm partner today.
That’s progress, as is the opening of many former “men only” roles in production agriculture and related professions.
One benefit of the new Wilcox-Hildreth ag ed building will to help students explore the many ag-related careers that don’t directly involve growing corn or raising cattle. The FFA president told me she wants to get a degree in agribusiness and maybe work in the field of animal nutrition.
The new ag education building will have the size and facilities to allow the teacher and community leaders to bring in hands-on examples and activities of the many career opportunities available to the students, such as agronomy, plant science, animal science, veterinary medicine, agribusiness, etc.
At the two-day Gateway Farm Expo was in Kearney this week there were many new technologies on display. There were tractors and combines, of course, but also new no-till planting equipment, GPS systems, drones for field monitoring and things I didn’t understand at all.
It’s progress and a lot different than how my dad and brother farmed. But the Gateway technologies are the future of agriculture and those FFA kids handing out roast beef sandwiches today certainly need a learning environment better than a 65-year-old classroom.