Educating about agriculture:Teachers join together to learn more about ag
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.