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West Branch School and Community Cultivating a Culture for Agriculture

May 16, 2022

West Branch Local Schools Vocational Agriculture Department is dedicated to promoting an understanding of agriculture and equipping students with the knowledge and skills needed to farm or work in agriculture-related fields.

A Community Supporting an Understanding of Agriculture

West Branch third grade students got a behind-the-scenes look at the field of agriculture during last week’s annual farm field trip hosted at local farms in partnership with the district’s high school vocational agriculture program.

The farm field trip is a longstanding partnership between the West Branch High School vocational agriculture program and local farms that began thirty years ago with Kevin Martig of Martig Farms, who was a sophomore in the West Branch Ag program at the time.

“Kids need to come out and see a farm,” Kevin Martig says. “They need to know where their food comes from.”

Monday’s field trip gave youngsters the opportunity to interact with high school students from the district’s vocational agriculture courses as they toured two Beloit farms - Martig Farms and Conny Farms - and visited the high school ag room.

In the ag room, students got their hands dirty as they planted their own flower to take home, guided by high school students in agriculture classes who talked about what a plant needs to grow.

At Conny Farms, West Branch agricultural students led the third grade groups through the farm where they talked about grain farming and got to see horses, goats, and even long-horned cattle.

Local representatives from other agricultural support services led some of the student tour groups through Martig Farms. Mary Fannin from Farm Credit and Brian Beck from Witmer’s Feed and Grain fielded student questions and shared their knowledge of the industry as they guided students through the many stops within Martig’s dairy and birdseed operations.

“Most of these kids - even though they are from an agricultural community - don’t get to get this close to it,” said Mary Fannin from Farm Credit, who led some of the third grade groups through the tour at Martig Farms.

Students learned about dairy cows - including about silage and that cows have four stomachs - as they walked through the barn where dairy cows are housed. With patient, quiet, and gentle interactions, students were able to get up close and pet some of the farm’s calves.

The tour gave students a glimpse of some of the many things that go into raising and nurturing cows. Brian Beck shared with students about how he uses math to calculate the food needed for the cows at Martig’s - projecting what they need, keeping track of what they have, and helping to formulate feedings based on the nutritional needs of segments of the herd.

At the milking parlor, students learned about the journey milk takes through the parlor - from the cow, through cooling equipment and into a truck for transport to a processing facility. Becky from Turner Dairy met the students outside the parlor, where she engaged the students in a conversation about the many items that are created from the milk once it leaves the farm and goes to the processing plant. The students had the opportunity to enjoy some of the end-products including milk and cheese sticks from Turner Dairy, and ice cream provided by Columbiana County Dairy Boosters.

The students were abuzz talking about the interesting things they learned - and the cute things they saw - throughout the day. And it’s one that is sure to leave an impression on these young minds, just as members of the West Branch high school agricultural classes were reminiscing about their own experiences on this trip as a third grade student in the district.

Growing the Future of Agriculture

The vocational agricultural program at West Branch High School offers seven courses, with nearly a third of West Branch students taking at least one of these courses prior to graduation.

Even though only one percent of the population is actively involved in farming in the United States, there are a vast number of careers that benefit from the exposure to and understanding of agriculture. Foundational and advanced courses available to West Branch students cover content areas critical to agriculture including food, plant and animal science; mechanics; and business.

West Branch ag instructor Greg Sharp explains that experience with agriculture opens a number of paths to his students, saying “They have opportunities that others don’t have because they have grown up in a rural setting.”

Animal & Plant Science student Morgan Brown plans to pursue a career as a veterinarian after high school. She shared how the in-depth study of animal body systems in the course has also helped with her own preparation for the upcoming skillathon for 4-H.

Students explore electricity, plumbing, hydraulics, welding, small engines, concrete/masonry and more in the Agriculture & Mechanics class. MAC Trailer provided a welder for students to use as they learn and practice their skills in the program.

Agriculture Business I and II for juniors and seniors adds business, law, marketing, and record-keeping content to the increasingly advanced study of agriculture topics in the program curriculum. These students also are required to perform ag-related work as part of the course, working at local or family farms, at farm markets, as heavy equipment operators, in landscaping, or other ag-related work.

The content in these courses, while all applies to farming, exposes students to a vast amount of opportunities that support agriculture in other manners. According to Sharp, more than half of the students involved in West Branch’s vocational agriculture program have indicated an intention to pursue agriculture-related fields. 

West Branch Local Schools continues to support students in learning about the complex field of agriculture and engage the community to give the youngest students a memorable lesson about farming and everything that it takes to bring those cartons of milk to them in the lunchroom.

West Branch Farm Field trip

Brian Beck from Witmer’s Feed and Grain shows the students the bunkers of food at Martig Farm and explains how he calculates the amount of food that is still there - likening it  to a recent lesson the class had in calculating volume - and estimating how long that will feed the cows at Martig Farms.

West Branch Farm Field trip

Students who were patient and quiet were able to encourage some of the recently weaned calves to greet them in the barn.

West Branch Farm Field trip

High School students in West Branch’s agriculture classes guided younger students in planting a flower to take home.

West Branch Farm Field trip

Students interact with a calf at Martig Farms.

West Branch Farm Field trip

Mary Fannin from Farm Credit shows students silage that is fed to the dairy cows.

West Branch Farm Field trip

Becky from Turner Dairy engages the students in a discussion about food items that come from milk as the cows look on from the milking parlor.

West Branch Farm Field trip

West Branch third grade students with the matriarch of Martig Farms, who has played a role in the district’s field trips to Martig Farms since 1992.

West Branch Farm Field trip

West Branch third graders ventured out to two area farms and the high school ag room for a field trip to learn about agriculture on Monday, May 9.

West Branch Farm Field trip

West Branch students taking vocational agriculture classes led the field trip at Conny Farms.

West Branch Farm Field trip

Students greet a horse at Conny Farm in Beloit during last week’s field trip.

West Branch Farm Field trip

West Branch third grade students had the opportunity to see some of the equipment farmers use in their field trip to Conny Farms (shown) and Martig Farms.

West Branch Farm Field trip

A West Branch high school student talks to students about agriculture at Conny Farms.


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