(La Porte, IN) - Classes on agriculture in La Porte have experienced a sharp increase in student enrollment.
The agriculture program at La Porte High School started in 2014, was expanded last year to grades 6, 7, and 8. Over the past four years, high school enrollment in the Future Farmers of America sponsored program has doubled to about 200, while roughly 100 middle schools are taking the courses this year. The program has also grown from one to two full-time instructors.
Senior Tristan Naue said he wouldn’t be as interested in coming to school without the program and hands-on learning.
“The textbook classes, you’re just doing it to pass. I feel like this is a lot more interesting because you can see it is like applying to the real world,” Naue said.
Jesi Davenport, an instructor, and FFA advisor, said some of her students have no prior experience in farming but are curious about food production and obtaining skills like fixing valuable machinery in agriculture, other lines of work, and doing it yourself projects at home.
Most recently, the high school students learned how to wire an electrical switch. In addition, restoration of an old Allis Chalmers lawn tractor already on-site is planned at some point.
Students also do things like plant and harvest corn and soybeans at a five-acre school district-owned parcel. Then, they sell the corn out in the community and deliver the soybeans to a local grain elevator for purchase.
“We got a lot of community support for our program,” Davenport said.
Students are also taught how to judge soil quality to determine if a site is better suited for agriculture or housing and whether a septic tank can be installed based on ground condition and what type of septic system should be installed.
Judging the quality of crops and livestock, which can help with profit margins on the farm, is also taught. The skills of the students are then put to the test at FFA-sponsored judging contests throughout the state.
Senior Audrey Jeffers, who owns a few pigs and cows along with a horse, said livestock judging is right up her alley. Her goal is to study animal science at Purdue University and go on to become a zoologist.
Jeffers, president of the LaPorte FFA chapter, said the bond she feels with her teachers and classmates is what she likes most about the program at her school.
“It’s just a great group of people that I get along with really well,” Jeffers said.
Also included in the curriculum is instruction on electrical wiring and welding. In addition, classes on horticulture are new to the program this year.
Davenport, 26, grew up helping raise horses, pigs, cows, and chickens on a small farm near Michigan City.
She studied agriculture education at Purdue University, where she met her husband, Foster, whose family grows mainly corn and soybeans on nearly 2,000 acres near Plymouth.
Davenport said having a relationship with students outside the traditional classroom and watching them grow is one of the things she enjoys most about the school program.
She splits her teaching duties between animal science and agriculture mechanics.
“It’s just like two totally different class subjects, and it’s never the same day twice,” Davenport said.
Junior Gavin Redlin, a part-time worker at several farms, said he doesn’t know exactly what he will do after graduating but feels the courses are preparing him for his role in the workforce.
“I’m just a working kind of guy. It’s very hands-on. You learn a lot of things,” Redlin said.