When the Fairfield County Farm Bureau was looking for ways to engage youth who may be interested in agriculture as a career path, new Organization Director Ivory Harlow sprung into action.
Harlow cultivated some connections from her previous employment with the Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State University in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. She knew of the work of Dr. Scott Shearer, whose specialties are digital and precision ag.
And she had been in contact with Marie Hurt, a teacher at Pickerington Local Schools who had been looking for opportunities for students in her Global Scholars program to apply their classroom knowledge to real-world experiences.
“Students in Pickerington drive by corn fields every day, but they have no connection to agriculture,” Harlow said. “It is a largely suburban school district in a largely rural county.”
Enter Shearer, who knows a lot about drones and how they have become important tools in precision agriculture. At the beginning of the school year, Hurt and 25 of her students set off for a field trip to the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in Madison County (the site of Farm Science Review) to learn about the latest in drone technology and its ties to farming, led by Shearer.
Unmanned drones can fly over acres of cropland to take pictures or video that will help farmers pinpoint exactly what is happening in their fields. Is one section too wet or too dry? Does one area need more or less fertilizer? The technology helps farmers be more judicious with their choices about how to get the best yield per acre. It is growing in popularity on farms across the Buckeye State, but it is something Hurt’s students never expected to see on the farm.
“‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that farming was so high tech,’” Hurt said one of her students told her after the field trip. Another, who had expressed interest in engineering, said he’d “never thought of engineering and ag or engineering and food science.”
That’s exactly the kind of eye-opener that Hurt was hoping for.
“We want our students to look at long-term career choices off campus and see them in action,” Hurt said. “It brings together what they learn with what is happening in the real world and see how they can apply that to real-world issues such as food scarcity and water quality.”
Global Scholars is a three-year program made up of freshmen, sophomores and juniors from various high schools in and around Columbus. It is dedicated to helping make students good leaders and citizens in a global world. The program is funded through the Columbus Council on World Affairs, and Hurt is the director of Global Scholars at Pickerington.
Facilitated by Farm Bureau, Global Scholars also visited the Ohio Statehouse and met with state leaders and an Ohio Supreme Court justice, Hurt said. They learned from Fairfield County Farm Bureau Vice President Kyle Sharp about how Ohio Farm Bureau advocates for Ohio farmers. Both the Statehouse visits and drone field trip were funded through grants.
Future opportunities planned with Farm Bureau include a day to learn about soil and water conservation at Pickaway and Fairfield county farms and a day with OSU ag professors and students learning about careers through the college of agriculture.
“We certainly are interested in continuing to offer these types of experiences for students in our county, regardless of their agricultural background,” Sharp said. “Agriculture offers such a vast array of career paths for young people to explore, and we hope we can inspire some of them to find their niche in our industry.”
Hurt is spreading the word as well. She has shared the opportunities Pickerington students have had through Farm Bureau with other districts searching for community partnerships in central Ohio.
The opportunities, she said, are invaluable in helping students chart a path to careers they may have never thought about previously.
“One of my students works at a farmers market,” Hurt said. “Her capstone project (in the Global Scholars program) is tying together her job with science and a possible career in agriculture, pulling it all together.”