Sunday, June 2, 2013

What Was the Last Thing You Learned?

As we were working on a companion animal project last week, one of my 9th graders asked "Ms. Wingert, what is the last thing you learned?" I chuckled a bit and replied "I am learning everyday."

Here are a few things I have learned in the last year: 

1. The things you are most terrified to teach, you might just love. 
Small Engines & Equine Science were the classes I dreaded all summer long. How was I going to teach a year long course on each of these topics? After all, what did I know about horses and small engines? As the year progressed, I gained confidence in both content areas and today I even fixed the garden tiller for my mom! Equally important as content knowledge, were the students in these classes. Initially, they were a bit difficult to 'break the shell' but as we worked together throughout the year, they were some of the most enjoyable students, always willing to put a little extra effort forth.

2. 9th graders are a handful. 
Ok, maybe I already knew this. My student teaching experience taught me that, but nothing prepared me for a class of 28 boys & 2 girls. Somedays, it was a miracle I came back to work the next day and other days were mildly successful. I am still working on an effective solution to this one.

3. The 15 passenger bus = 15 backseat drivers
It's not all that difficult to drive, but when you fill the bus with a few backseat drivers and try to navigate around the cities things gets a bit more complicated (we won't even mention the road construction). I may have caught a few curbs and it's safe to say that I won't be getting an actual bus license anytime soon. (After all, I have never been known for my driving skills.)

4.  You will never be completely prepared. 
I spent much of the first semester trying to figure out what I would be teaching the next day. Rarely did I have plans more than one day in advance. Some days it was a complete experiment, and other days the classroom bounded with excitement.  Even when I finally started to plan more than a day in advance and figured out what worked & what didn't, there were days when I threw the plans out the window to deal with a more pressing life lesson. Sometimes, there are bigger lessons to be learned than the ones we have planned.

5. God is in control. 
I have reminded myself of this many times throughout the last year, as I have rode the roller coaster of a first year teacher.  One especially prominent example was on April 14th, the day of our FFA Banquet. I had spent part of the weekend at my parents house and was making the trek back to Stewartville on Sunday morning. The roads were a slushy/icy mess and I wasn't 10 miles from home before I landed myself in the ditch. After my dad came to save the day, I headed back home to wait an hour for the roads to clear, I still had plenty of time. After the 2nd attempt, I made it to Stewartville and was finishing up some last minute plans when the lights went off in my room. Thinking it was just the sensor, I waved my arms to motion the lights back on. Nothing. This was not the motion detector. It was the power. After talking with the janitor, banging on the cater's door, calling the FFA members and shedding a few tears, I called the banquet off, only for it to come on 15 minutes later. The decision had already been made and I was not about to undo all that I had just done. We held the banquet the next night and everything worked out perfectly.  God was in control.

As I watched the Stewartville High School Seniors walk across the stage on Friday, I couldn't help but think back to one year ago when I left the University of Minnesota grinning from ear to ear in anticipation of my new job at Stewartville High School. I was nervous & excited but looking back, I didn't have a clue what was in store.  I knew that I would be working with 9-12th graders in a variety of courses, but nothing could prepare me for  my  first year of teaching. It has been filled with ups & downs, tears & joy, anger & pride, mistakes & accomplishments. I have made friends with colleagues (who have been my saving grace), built relationships with students & hopefully taught something that will stick with my students in the years to come.

Thanks to all of you who have supported me throughout the year!

Bring on year 2 -- there is much more for me to learn!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

UseFUL Ag Careers!

Today Yahoo posted an article titled "The Most Useless College Majors".  You may or may not be suprised that Agriculture was the #1 most useless, #4 was Animal Science and #5 was Horticulture. You can read it here.

This came as a shock to myself  and many of others who are pursing degrees in the indicated fields.  My peers at the U of M, showered facebook with a variety of reactions. Some were minor freakouts at Yahoo, others expressed their concern for the agriculture industry and some rebuttled the argument by indicating the current poverty levels and agriculture's role in feeding the world. 

While this comes as a shock to those who understand the importance of agriculture in their daily lives, we cannot forget about those who are less familiar with agriculture.  I would like to offer my thoughts on where we would be without the careers of agriculture, animal science and horticulture that Yahoo described.

Typical Coursework according to Yahoo: Crops, plant diseases, animal husbandry, basic veterinary science

Why its not useless: An understanding of the industry that feeds the world can't be deemed as "useless". This education provides those with a foundational knowledge that can be very versatile within a variety of workplaces including financial institutions, farm business managment and marketing.

Animal Science-
Typical Coursework according to Yahoo: Animal breeding, reproductive physiology, nutrition, meat and muscle biology

Why its not useless: Raising an animal is not a job soley done by the farmer. Farmers utilize the resources of a number of  people in the nutiriton and reproduction industries. These people provide a balanced ration for animals and collaborate with the farmer in selecting sires for breeding stock, among many other things.

Horticulture -
Typical Coursework according to Yahoo: Crops, plant diseases, agricultural business and economics, crop and fruit science

Why its not useless: With the increased interest in community gardens and locally grown food we need people who are interested and educated in these areas. Additionally, plant diseases could have a large toll on food production if there weren't people who understood plant biology and ways of hindering the disease.

Overall, the Yahoo article provides a one sided view into the agriculture industry. Agriculture is not just farming, but providing food and resources for the world to live. This article gives us one more reason to explain the broad impact of agriculture to our friends, family and any one who asks.

Finally, I would also like to share a different point of view, also from the USDA that indicates the need for agriculture related positions are on the rise.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Harvest: A Farmers Favorite Season!

From the buddy seat of the combine,
To the grain truck,
To be stored as feed for our animals!
As the leaves changes colors and warm days turn to chilly nights, our crops our being harvested.

There is nothing I love more than driving home from the cities to see numerous combines in the field and tractors hauling wagons full of corn and soybeans. It is a scene of: accomplishment, beauty and pride in the work we do.

Throughout the last two weekends, I have spent some sitting in the combine, hauling wagons and unloading corn. I enjoy being part of the harvesting processes as it is a result of 5 months of hard work and observation of our crops. Additionally, it means we will have feed for our newly weaned calves!

After today, our crops will be harvested, but that doesn't mean that the work is done. Up next is choping, raking and baling the corn stalks into bedding for our cattle.

A product of the land and our labor!
The beauty of the season!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Listening and Learning from the Humane Society of the United States

Earlier this week I noticed a variety of posters plastered around campus advertising VegWeek. A day later, there was an editorial in the campus newspaper written by Paul Shapiro, Senior Director of Farm Animal Protection at the Humane Society of the United States. As you might guess, the article didn't put agriculture in a glowing spotlight.  Instead, he targeted the animal agriculture industry as he promoted the kick off of VegWeek and his on-campus appearance on Saturday, October 1st.

To go, or not to go?  Do I really want to hear what he has to say? I found myself battling these questions all week. Yesterday I decided that I would attend. I told myself that this would be an experience to really hear what HSUS is saying and to understand the means in which they are targeting audiences across the country, everyday.

Instead of talking about the inaccurate items that were brought up, I thought it would be most interesting to share the strategies in which Paul presented his main point of developing a vegetable based diet.

1. Constant, continuous comparisons between farm animals and pets, as well as farm animals and humans.

2. Attacking animal agriculture groups for their 'improper' response to issues in the industry. This approach instantly gave the commodity group a sickening reputation that supported animal abuse.

3. Praise to HSUS for being active and involved in government legislation that 'supports' animal agriculture by removal of veal crates, battery cages and individual farrowing units.

4. Appeal to emotion through visuals. There were disturbing pictures, happy pictures, video clips and quotes that all supported the mission of promoting vegetarianism. Following the appearance of sad, injured and restrained animals, the presentation transitioned to incorporating a plant based diet which included happy pictures of animals as we see in the slide on the right.

5. Using 'famous' people to persuade the audience: Ellen, Martha, Oprah, Gore and Clinton all support plant based diets, so you should be a vegetarian!

6. Numerous times Paul presented himself as well as volunteers and employees of HSUS as the 'American Animal Advocates'.  I don't know about you, but I consider myself an advocate for animal agriculture, however my mission is vastly different than his.

During the question and answer portion of his presentation, he was more than happy to listen to the question, but really failed in the answering department. When asked about undercover videotaping, the definition of a factory farm and long term goals of HSUS in regards to vegan-ism, Paul took a direct detour around the question and ended up tugging at emotions instead of answering the question.

Paul did answer one question in a semi-direct manner. When asked about the future of animal products he said "think of it like film and digital cameras, as digital cameras made their way onto the market, film made its way off the market. As demand for an item decreases, so does the amount supplied." 

As frustrating as it was to sit through almost two hours of content that incorrectly depicted the agriculture industry, I learned something very valuable. We have to listen to what other people are saying in order for us to understand. While I don't plan on becoming a vegetarian, I can see how one can be tremendously impacted and make the decision to integrate a plant based diet following one of these presentations. There were so many misconceptions that it looked like developing a vegetarian lifestyle was the only solution to solving animal cruelty.

Before this presentation, I knew HSUS was a powerful organization whose mission didn't correlate with my own. After seeing this presentation, powerful has a completely different meaning. I would urge anyone who has the opportunity, to listen to one of these lectures. The feeling of your blood boiling and way of life being swept out from under your feet is one that I have never felt before.

HSUS continues to surface in my blog postings and while I would like to avoid it, some of these experiences and stories need to be shared so that we can care for our animals to the best of our ability and promote an industry that we are proud to be a part of.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A New Country, A New Perspective

I had the opportunity to study abroad in Switzerland for the last two weeks in May. I can’t say enough good things about it. I came home with a new perspective on agriculture, a renewed sense of appreciation for American agriculture and a desire to learn more.

I have no idea how to adequately summarize this two week excursion. If I tried, it would probably take an entire 3 days and the 569 pictures don’t seem to do the trip justice. The sites I saw and the things I experienced are simply amazing.

Here is the quickest summary I could possibly write:
1. Mountains. 99.9% of the time we were surrounded by the Alps. After about 100 pictures of mountains, I still don’t think I was able to capture the beauty, but I tried. Farmers strive to make the most of their resources including the mountainous land. Cattle graze the mountains for the summer and other grass is harvested

2. Cow bells are an unforgettable part of Swiss Agriculture. From the first day to the very last, bells could be heard right outside. At first it was amazing, I jumped off my bed, ran to the window and just about jumped out I was so excited. Then we realized the bells never stopped, even when we wanted to sleep. Throughout the trip we tried about every tactic imaginable to get the bells to stop, we failed every time. However, I was ecstatic when I had the opportunity to help put the bells on the cows at my host family!

3. Extensive government control over agriculture is prevalent among their country. A large part of the farmers income is derived from the government. Farmers earn these subsides by using certain production practices and the dollars add up quite fast. An average farmer with 25 cows receives about 70,000 Swiss franks from the government. This is equivalent to 83,500 American dollars, however it is important to take into account that Switzerland has a much higher standard of living than the US. One important thing to note is that the National Animal Identification System is mandatory in Switzerland. Within 24 hours of birth the newborn must be reported and tagged. These tags allow for tracking if a disease outbreak were to occur. This program is currently voluntary in the United States.

4. Fantastic food! Every meal was very fresh, many times coming directly from the garden. They had the most terrific salad dressings, so good that I wanted to bring a bottle home. French and ranch dressings will never taste the same again. My favorite meal was made by my host family when we visited the holiday house on Sunday. We had salad, steak, pork, venison, green beans and potatoes. Yes, 3 different types of meat, all grilled to perfection!

4.5......Fantastic Drink! Beer and wine are also widely a part of their culture and our group did fantastic job incorporating that into our trip, since we were all of legal drinking age. We also had the great opportunity to try schnapps. Sounds like a great idea, but tasted like rubbing alcohol. Note to future Swiss travelers: American schnapps and Swiss schnapps are polar opposites!

5. Appreciation for others. Being in the same place with the same 20 people for 14 days can be the best or worst experience. We had about every single personality imaginable within our small group and it was up to each of us individually to figure out if we were going to tolerate, accept or appreciate our peers for who they are.

Overall, this was an absolutely wonderful experience!
If you ever have the chance to experience another culture, take the opportunity and RUN! I was so hesitant to go, but am so glad that I did and would go again in a heartbeat!

I would like to send a special thank you to:
 Julie Tesch, our fabulous instructor who put up with more chaos than any other person could have!
Hans Peter and Stefan Brandenburger, our fabulous tour guides 
The people of Switzerland, for letting us experience their culture
University of Minnesota- Twin Cities, for giving students the opportunity to study agriculture abroad!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Food and Farming: The US Farm Bill

Recently I attended an on campus event to learn a bit about the US Farm Bill. I have to admit, this is not something I have been following closely or know a lot about, but I was excited to get a chance to gain a bit of an understanding at this event.

The panel consisted of 4 people, all with varying backgrounds. They were each able to give a short 5-10 minute summary of their views on the bill.

 Matt Wohlman- Assistant Commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Matt gave an overview of the US Farm Bill, including the 15 titles and as well as the key priorities and challenges.  Some of the key priorities included food security and stability, aging farm populations, developing more markets for local foods and conservation. The main challenges were budget, political climate, consequences of dismantling the safety net and the currently strong agriculture economy.  

Kevin Paap- President of the Minnesota Farm Bureau

Kevin talked about his own background and passion in the crop industry and emphasised the strides that are being made in agriculture due to technology.  He told the audience that farmers are producing 5 times as much corn as in the 1930s due to  40% and 30% increases of corn and soybean yields.  He also mentioned that farmers have reduced soil erosion by 43% as a result of minimum tillage techniques.

Jennifer Billig- Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Jennifer works for the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy as senior program leader of IATP health team and the Healthy Food Action. Her key issues revolved highly around her vegetarian viewpoint which she let shine throughout the night. Her concerns revolved mainly around giving more support to the fruit, vegetable, and organic farmers through subsidies and credit while pointing fingers at conventional agriculture for the mass production of corn and it's role in obesity. Jennifer also discussed the "Healthy Food Action Initiative" which I would encourage you to check out. 

Paul Porter - University of Minnesota Professor

Paul has traveled by bike through several countries in Africa, to observe the food and agriculture systems. He is also a professor in the department of agronomy and plant genetics.  He discussed about the international implications of the farm bill and that by 2050 the US population is supposed to hold stable at approximately 9.3 billion people. Currently, there are about 1 billion people undernourished and another 1 billion over nourished . That being said, he stated that more money is being spent on those who are over nourished instead of focusing on those who are starving.  He believes that the US Farm Bill has negative affects internationally and "poses an impediment to helping the bottom billion better themselves". 

Following the introduction session, the 4 panelists gave the audience the opportunity to ask questions. The session was quite short but some of the topics included corn production, ethanol, encouraging young people to become involved, subsidies and research.

Since the event, I have done a bit more research:

"The Healthy Food Initiate" is quite the program. This group is against conventional agriculture and is striving to get others to sign on to this program in hopes of gaining momentum in order to make changes in current policies. Further- they don't just state their mission, they provide plenty of biased data including articles, "research" and other readings in order to sway a public perception. See it for yourself .

While I agree with Jennifer that fruits and vegetables are an important part of ones diet, I also believe that protein is needed and many of the claims made by the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy are quite significantly biased. Furthermore, organic does not mean healthy.  Organic production methods give consumers more choices however there is still a great need for conventional agriculture and both ways are safe and healthy for consumers and animals.

My final thoughts on this topic include the fact that about 75% of the funding for the last farm bill went towards nutrition programs. While I understand the need for good nutrition, I think the importance of farming is maybe getting lost. Farming leads to nutrition - without food there is no nutrition.  If a large portion of the budget is spent on nutrition programs, how will we continue producing enough healthy and nutritious food with the high price of land, inputs and the decrease in farmers? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Week of Agriculture Education!

While some were getting there tan on and road tripping across the states, I spent spring break in the Kingsland Agriculture Edcuation department shadowing the ag teacher and ffa advisor, Kristal Brogan. This experience was part of my agriculture education early experience class at the University of Minnesota. Throughout the week I had the opportunity to help select the 2011-2012 FFA Officer Team, teach a few short lessons, observe Kristal's teaching style, meet with the high school principal and take home some useful advice to utilize in my future career.

While I still had time to be with friends and forget about my homework, I am grateful for my experience at Kingsland High School. I had the opportunity to spend the week working with 7-12 grade students on a variety of topics ranging from welding to horticulture and everything in between, getting just a glimpse of the field I would like to work in upon graduation next spring!

Over break I also found time to help on the farm. With the warmer temperatures, there was always plenty of manure to haul. It was exciting to get the sheds cleaned out and the manure spread on the fields for hopefully another successful planting season. We also had a few calves born, which is always fun to see!

I also want to praise the Plainview- Elgin- Millville FFA Chapter on a job well done. During National Agriculture Week, they hosted a petting zoo and educational workshops for preschool-3rd grade students. This event has always been a hit amongst the youngsters, but it seems to get better and better each year! The PEM FFA Chapter was also involved in hosting a hunger banquet for high school students which emphasised the issues of poverty and hunger across the nation. Keep up the great work!

Stay tuned, my planner is jam-packed full of agriculture conferences and activities in the next few months!