Education and eating: Thermopolis school focuses on ag education through planting projectWritten by Saige Albert
Thermopolis – As a vocational instructor at Thermopolis Middle School and Thermopolis High School, Becky Martinez attends several trainings each year to learn about new projects and new ways to teach students.
“Last summer, I went to a Junior Master Gardner training in Casper,” she says. “We used curriculum from Texas A&M, and it talks about getting produce in front of students and giving them an opportunity to try it.”
“We utilize project-based learning in my classroom, and we’ve started a project to be able to grow our own food,” Martinez says. “We’ve planted a pizza garden in garden boxes in the classroom.”
Gardening in the classroom
Martinez has outfitted her classroom with four planters that are two feet by four feet in size.
In their “pizza garden,” Martinez explains that sixth grade students have planted many of the ingredients they might need to make a pizza, including tomatoes and peppers, as well as several quick-growing plants like lettuce and spinach.
They planted seed during the middle of March, and students have been documenting their growing experience.
“The students were so amazed at how much the lettuce had grown in just one week,” she says. “It’s great to watch the students as they observe and learn about plants.”
In addition to learning about how to grow plants, Martinez notes that her students are also carrying out several science experiments.
“The students also decided they wanted to experiment in this project,” she says. “One of our boxes is organic. We’re also going to do a good, better and best soil composition trial.”
A third aspect of the project will be to vary the lighting to answer the question, is light important for plants?
“I’ve tried to let my students decide what they want to do and let them run with it,” Martinez says. “I want them to feel like this is their project from start to finish.”
Throughout the summer
As the school year winds down, Martinez says that the plants will be transplanted from the indoor garden boxes to an outdoor 16-by-16, fenced-in area on school property.
“We have two eighth graders at our school who have awesome, big ideas,” she says. “They are going to take care of the plants during the summer in a school garden.”
McKenna Bomengen was one of the eighth graders who conceptualized the idea of a school garden.
Bomengen says, “This opportunity is valuable for students at Thermopolis Middle School because it gives us a chance to experience the reward of a good work ethic.”
Martinez notes that students attending summer school, as well as community members or teachers who want to “adopt” the garden for a week, will be involved in caring for the plants when school is not in session.
“This is a great start to our school garden,” Martinez adds.
The students hope to continue to grow the garden project, and Martinez says she will be applying for a Wyoming Department of Agriculture grant to construct a hoop house on school property for students to utilize.
“Our principal also wants to see if we can add a chicken coop,” she says. “We’re looking at if that is possible because we’re on the edge of city limits. The chickens would be able to supplement eggs to the school.”
With an abundant crop expected in the fall, Martinez notes that the produce will be utilized in the school cafeteria as part of a Farm-to-School project.
“We hope to produce enough to be able to supplement our school lunch program,” she says. “This is a hands-on way to help students learn about where their food comes from.”
Martinez continues, “Even within our middle school in rural Wyoming, a lot of students don’t know what a tomato plant looks like. They think their spaghetti sauce comes from a jar, not from tomatoes in the garden. We’re trying to help our students understand that farmers produce their food.”
At the same time, she also says the project provides hands-on learning, group work, collaboration and communication.
“In the classes I teach, we do a lot of group work and learn how to communicate with each other. It’s more real-world,” she adds.
Martinez is also working to secure grant funds to enhance their Farm-to-School program.
“There are grants that we can get to supplement our school district’s lunch program with beef or locally grown produce,” she says.
Benefits for students
The benefits for this project are long lasting and extensive, and Martinez says, “We’re trying to figure out how we can provide a healthy, balanced lunch and use fresh, local products.”
Ray Schafer of Hot Springs County Farm Bureau says, “This project teaches students about leadership and responsibility. We’re impressed, and we want to do everything we can to encourage the next generation to learn about agriculture.”
Hot Springs County Farm Bureau provided funding for the construction of outdoor gardens and other materials to support the project.
“The garden will also expose students to a healthier lifestyle when we get to help our school cooks put together homemade meals,” Bomengen adds. “Altogether, I hope this project progresses long after I have graduated and, more importantly, leaves an imprint on the Thermopolis ag program.”
Wyoming education - WAIC seeks statewide lesson inputWritten by Natasha Wheeler
“The Wyoming Stewardship Project mission is for kindergarten through 12th grade students to gain an understanding of Wyoming’s vast resources and become informed citizens, capable of serving as stewards of Wyoming’s future,” explains Jessie Dafoe, executive director of Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom (WAIC).
WAIC is asking for help from Wyoming’s citizens to ensure that students are receiving a well-rounded education as the foundation for their futures here in their home state.
“Our vision is a collaborative effort between agriculture, energy, natural resources and the education community to identify key learning objectives for development of classroom units,” Dafoe continues.
With feedback from all segments of the Wyoming economy, WAIC hopes to create classroom lessons that teach students the necessary skills for making important decisions for the state as they become adults.
“We want the highest quality of life for Wyoming citizens, who fully understand our resources, how to manage them and ultimately become stewards of our multi-use state,” she says.
Agriculture, energy and natural resource management all operate within the same space, and WAIC wants Wyoming students to be involved and engaged, with a solid understanding of different concepts and critical thinking skills to navigate through them.
“We want to make sure our lessons are project-based,” Dafoe adds. “We don’t ever want to tell students what to think. We want to teach them how to think and use critical thinking skills that they will be able to apply in their lives.”
Currently, Wyoming citizens can add their input to the conversation by visiting the WAIC website and clicking on the link for the Wyoming Stewardship Project at the bottom of the homepage.
“We are going to be gathering survey responses until Sept. 18,” Dafoe says.
WAIC representatives will also be reaching out to industry leaders throughout the state in agriculture, energy and natural resources.
“Hopefully we will reach people through print and online publications, and I hope that others will share this project as well,” mentions Dafoe.
Citizens in Wyoming who would like to contribute are strongly encouraged to participate and share their expertise.
“We are looking for everyone to have a voice as this is truly Wyoming’s project and is making a difference for Wyoming’s youth. Every voice matters,” she states.
After the survey is complete, participants will have the opportunity to make financial contributions and sign up for email updates about the project.
“Any support, whether it’s input from the survey or an investment to make this project a reality, is something we would be extremely grateful for,” she states.
After survey data is collected and reviewed, the WAIC team will create theme maps, outlining educational concepts from kindergarten through eighth grade. Teachers from around the state will then be involved in the process, evaluating the concepts and creating lesson templates.
“These are going to be authentic Wyoming lessons, written by and for Wyoming educators,” comments Dafoe.
The program will be piloted in classrooms during the 2016-17 school year, with follow-up meetings the next summer to identify strengths and weaknesses.
“With the pilot project, we will have teachers who helped in the creation of the project, and they will have a teaching partner who did not,” Dafoe notes.
Using this strategy, teachers who helped write the lessons can clarify points for other teachers, and those who aren’t part of the writing process can highlight confusing elements of the program.
“We are going to focus on the idea that a graduating senior will ultimately understand all of the concepts,” she explains.
The WAIC team will also be working with the Wyoming Department of Education and the education community across the state to ensure that a comprehensive program is created.
“It is important to have teachers from all across the state. We don’t want teachers from just one county or one school district represented but a very collective group of educators to make sure that we have a well-represented group,” she remarks.
Dafoe is looking forward to the development and implementation of the WAIC Wyoming Stewardship Project.
“We’ve had tremendously successful programs with our bookmark program, educator of the year award and our educator institute, which is probably one of our most important development opportunities that we have for educators,” she comments. “What our Wyoming Stewardship Project brings to WAIC is really the substance that educators in Wyoming need.”
Acknowledging that the project is a big undertaking, Dafoe says, “We are excited about it, and I can’t think of a more worthwhile endeavor for our youth. We appreciate the support to make this project possible, empowering our youth to have the tools necessary to serve as stewards of our great state.”
WAIC holds ag and natural resource science institute in southwest WyoWritten by Jessie Dafoe
Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom (WAIC) welcomed 39 educators to the Bridger Valley June 9-11 to highlight southwest Wyoming’s agriculture and natural resources.
The days were packed with tours, hands-on learning and lessons to take back to the classroom. WAIC would like to thank all the sponsors, presenters and the community members for an amazing experience.
The first day participants traveled to Solvay for an underground look at how trona is mined and tour the processing plant.
Then educators loaded the bus to head back to Lyman and tour a portion of the Sims’ Ranch and bottle-fed lambs. After a presentation from Shaun Sims, Travis Deti with the Wyoming Mining Association presented, and the Proffitt family provided cowboy poetry entertainment as participants roasted marshmallows and enjoyed an evening campfire.
The second day was just as busy, with presentations including the Bridger Valley Electric Association, Wyoming State Forestry and Wyoming PBS.
Participants heard from Ken Fackrell about the unique water resources in the county, WAIC’s 2013 Educator of the Year Tomi Sue Wille and local rancher Carol Hamilton.
The afternoon brought Jessica Baxter and her team from the Boys and Girls Club to facilitate a Code of the West training for educators to implement the values into their classroom. A highlight of the conference was a book signing for the participants by Jim Owen, author of Cowboy Ethics. The community was invited for a keynote by Owen and the evening was truly a memorable night, says WAIC.
The schedule did not slow down for the last day as participants toured a wind farm and the Micheli Ranch. The institute concluded with an auction with “ranch money” participants had won and lost throughout the three days, and they left with materials for their classroom and University of Wyoming or Professional Teaching Standards Board credits.
“Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom believes our state offers an invaluable outdoor classroom for our educators to experience,” says WAIC Executive Director Jessie DaFoe. “We are grateful for the communities who welcome us each year.”
Since 1986, WAIC has served as an educational resource for Wyoming focusing on critical thinking, problem solving and hands on learning. WAIC’s many educational resources include agriculture and natural resource curriculum, educator professional development and recognizing student and educator achievement. WAIC is committed to growing Wyoming’s next generation.
For more about the Institute or WAIC’s programs, visit the organization at wyaitc.org.
Ag in the Classroom - Fremont County family shares with educatorsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Riverton – Andrea Dockery of Jeffrey City introduced a group of Wyoming educators to her family ranch on June 9 during the 2015 Wyoming Agriculture and Natural Resources Science Institute.
“Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom (WAIC) appreciates Fremont County’s hospitality as we host our annual professional development opportunity for educators,” stated WAIC Executive Director Jessie Dafoe during the event.
Visiting the Dockery family ranch was one of the many activities the program participants were involved with June 9-11, including a Devon Energy tour and trips to the Riverton Livestock Auction, Raspberry DeLights Farm, Sprouts Nursery and more.
“The two-and-a-half day class offers local agriculture and natural resource operations as a classroom with hands-on activities and lessons to implement in the classroom,” added Dafoe.
At Dockery’s ranch, participants received a first-hand account about the successful and sustainable cow/calf operation from family members living and working on the land.
“The first person in my family to live here was John Myers, my great-great- great uncle,” Dockery noted.
John Myers moved west from Ohio to work on the 71 Cattle Company and later homesteaded a place of his own nearby.
“Uncle John talked my Great-Grandpa Albert Myers into coming to the Sweetwater in 1900 from Kansas. He was 18 years old, and he worked for a sheep company,” Dockery said.
After going back to Kansas, where he met and married his wife, he returned to Wyoming to begin ranching in 1910.
“They made a living by selling cows and horses,” Dockery explained, “but only two of the Myers children stayed on the ranches – my Grandpa Albert Myers and his brother Sam.”
Dockery’s mother moved back to the family ranch with her new husband in 1970, and Dockery is also currently living on the place with her husband Thad and daughters Rylee and Laura.
“Rylee is my five-year-old, and Laura is 11. They are the fifth generation,” commented Dockery.
The Myers Ranch still makes a living by selling yearlings.
“We’ve been here for 98 years. We provide part of the economy for Fremont County, and we provide beef for the world,” she said.
Calving season on the ranch arrives in the month of March, keeping the family busy checking on heifers for their cow/calf yearling operation.
“We calve all of our heifers through the corral and we watch them about every two hours,” Dockery explained.
Bum calves are typically bottle-fed, as exemplified by one of this year’s calves introduced to the group, who got to spend his first 10 days in the house getting warm and healthy.
“Then it becomes branding season, and we get to see our neighbors again after a long winter,” Dockery continued. “We really rely on neighbors in this area. We trade help, and we have a good neighbor system.”
Pairs are turned out on either May 1 or May 15, as per their BLM agreement, depending on the year.
“Every other year is a different date, and that’s just part of our BLM allotment management plan,” Dockery explained.
Summer and fall
The summer season gives everyone on the ranch a chance to work on irrigation and other upkeep projects.
“In July, we get one cutting of hay. We only get one cutting because of our high elevation, and we are thankful for it,” she stated.
Yearlings, culls and bulls are gathered by horseback in September, and the rest of the cattle are gathered a few weeks later.
“After that, we go through weaning and preg testing. Then we start feeding,” Dockery added.
The cows are kept on deeded property about seven months of the year and fed a ration of hay, cake and mineral throughout the winter, usually starting in December.
“When calving comes, we are back to that time of the year, and it’s a full-time job,” she commented.
The Myers Ranch also has a variety of horses, including a 25-year-old horse named Sparky and a horse named Dusty who is 34.
“We also have younger horses. Right now three of them are not yet broke, but they are in the process,” Dockery noted.
The Dockerys own a stud and some mares. They raise colts that are starting to build a name for themselves.
“Some that we haven’t kept on the ranch have gone on to be trained as performance rodeo horses,” commented Dockery’s husband Thad.
Horses are also an important part of the family on the Myers Ranch.
“They are our only source of gathering cattle,” stated Dockery. “The four-wheelers might be used if we need to check on something and get there quickly, but we don’t herd with four-wheelers.”
In June, the Dockerys and their fellow grazing permittees come to help with a calf roundup and shoes are checked and replaced on the horses.
“That’s been going on since the early 1900s,” Dockery said.
The Myers family ranch continues into the future with horses, cows and a proud tradition of sustainability, celebrating 100 years of operation in 2017.
Natasha Wheeler is editor at the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Educating about agriculture:Teachers join together to learn more about agWritten by Saige Albert
Torrington – More than 30 educators came together the week of June 10 in Torrington to further their agriculture knowledge, enabling them to bring Wyoming Ag in the Classroom (WAIC) lessons into their curriculum.
“The Wyoming Agriculture and Natural Resource Institute provides educators with hands-on experiences and curriculum resources,” says WAIC Executive Director Jessie DaFoe.
A diverse audience of teachers from across Wyoming and surrounding states attended the workshop, where they learned about agriculture in Wyoming, specifically dry bean farming, cattle ranching and natural resources in Wyoming, among other topics.
What is agriculture?
To start the workshop, teachers were asked, “What is agriculture to you, What is agriculture to your class and what is agriculture to your community?”
The wide-ranging responses addressed all aspects of the industry generally.
“Agriculture is a way of life,” one educator from the Torrington area commented.
Others commented that the industry involves everyone and includes farming and ranching, as well as tourism, coal, methane, oil, forestry and other activities.
“Agriculture is our economic livelihood,” said a Kaycee teacher, noting that across Wyoming, agriculture is everywhere and impacts everyone.
At the same time, for students, teachers commented that agriculture means a hands-on learning opportunity. The industry also provides for natural resources education, and in many small community, means after school and summer jobs for older students.
Farming in Torrington
With few teachers involved in the instutite exposed to production agriculture, WAIC worked to tour several prodcution operations in the Torrington area, starting with Unverzagt Farms.
Unverzagt Farms, a Lingle dry bean producer, is run by Dave and Aimee Unverzagt, who introduced teachers to the process in planting and harvesting beans, as well as the challenges associated with agriculture in the area.
Unverzagt explained the technological advancements in bean farming, including use of herbicides and farm equipment technology.
“They have satellites on the tractors now so they drive themselves,” Dave said. “They also have GPS locators where we can track where planting occurs to do the same thing next year.”
Unverzagt also gave teachers information on the improvements that have been made to ag because of technological advances.
Representatives of Kelley Bean Company also presented to the group of teachers, explaining what happens after beans are harvested.
“Following harvest, beans are cleaned and sorted, then they go through a gravity separator,” explained Jeff Chapman of Kelley Bean. “Then they pass by an electric eye that check for any bad beans.”
The facility processes about 200 pounds of beans per hour, which are then packaged for retail sale under the company’s label, Brown’s Best. They also package under other labels for retail stores.
“Beans, by nature, are not genetically modified,” explained Andrew Carlson, also of Kelley Bean. “They are also the only food product that we eat and plant the same thing.”
Carlson noted that there are a number of opportunities provided by bean growers associations nationwide to help educate young people about agriculture, and that they work to continue educational opportunities for young people.
Another stop of the tour visited Table Mountain Vineyards, operated by the Zimmerer family.
After attending a grape-growing seminar, Patrick completed a thesis project on establishing vineyards in Wyoming. Shortly after that, he convinced his family to plant a 300-vine vineyard on their farm.
“My sister and I entered the 10K Challenge through the college of business,” explained Patrick. “In 2001, we planted our first 300 grapevines, and in 2004 we entered the competition. It was a business plan competition, and we won $10,000 to get started.”
As a result, they started making wine. Today, they produce 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of 12 different wine varieties that are all picked, bottled and labeled by hand.
“This allows us to diversify a little bit,” adds Patrick of the vineyards, explaining that they also raise crops on the operation.
Each stop during the course of the institute provided lesson plan ideas for teachers and allowed educators to work with producers to better understand the agriculture industry.
Along with attending Unverzagt Farms and Table Mountain Vineyards, educators stopped at Ochsner Ranch, a cow/calf operation north of Torrington, Torrington Livestock Markets and the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center.
Additionally, Montana logger and advocate for natural resources Bruce Vincent presented both an afternoon-long educators’ workshop and keynote address.
The Wyoming Mining Association, Wyoming Rural Electric Association also offered presentations at the institute.
DaFoe additionally encouraged educators to attend next year’s institute, which will be held in Mountain View in June.