Analyzing soil samples, a staple of agriculture classes, involves a quantity of soil in a clear jar that’s topped off with water. The jar’s lid is screwed down tightly. Several minutes of vigorous shaking follows to thoroughly mix soil and water. A day later, layers of sand, silt and clay are visible inside. Dull as dirt.
Not in Christi Bachman’s agriculture class at Bloom-Carroll High School in Fairfield County. Students literally shake it up to Taylor Swift’s lively pop hit “Shake It Off” to ensure thorough mixing. Because of the COVID-19 shutdown, she sent the homebound students a video of animated pigs dancing to Swift’s song. They had to return a photo of themselves shaking their samples.
The 2020 Golden Owl Award winner also added emphasis on zoonotic diseases, those passed from animals to people. Students studied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for information to make a safety poster or brochure.
“You want to teach what you’re going through,” she said. Her hope is the shutdown will not only help her students, but also the nation to realize that “an economical, reliable source of food should not be taken for granted. More importantly than ever, people need to understand where their food and fiber comes from and why agriculturists do what they do.”
Google Classroom was relied on more than ever this spring. Add to this Zoom video FFA interviews and a Facebook page where agriculture teachers share ideas.
“It has me thinking outside the box for sure,” she said during the shutdown.
The path to the classroom
This isn’t your grandpa’s agriculture class and hasn’t been since she arrived in 2014. In her fourth year at Bloom-Carroll, she was named both the school and Bloom-Carroll School District Teacher of the Year. There were 130 outstanding agriculture teachers nominated for the 2020 Golden Owl Award, which recognizes the top agricultural educator in the state. Along with the honor comes a trophy for Bachman and $3,000 from sponsor Nationwide Insurance for the school’s agriculture program.
Bachman, who is a Farm Bureau member in Fairfield County, grew up on a family farm in Clinton County and was active in 4-H and FFA. She was inspired to go into teaching by her agriculture teacher, Ken Fliehman, yet the path to her classroom career was marked with detours.
The first came in her sophomore year at The Ohio State University. She dropped her agriculture education major to focus on agriculture communications, another passion. At Ohio State, she worked with Joe Cornely, then a farm broadcaster at WRFD Radio who later became Ohio Farm Bureau’s director of media relations. After a couple years at WRFD, she eventually joined the Ohio Pork Producers Council as the director of communications and special events. But teaching still called, as she continued volunteering with 4-H and FFA.
So it was back to Ohio State to finish her agriculture education degree.
“This was a risky move since I had married an apple producer working on his multigenerational orchard,” she said. Agriculture teaching jobs were available, though not necessarily near the orchard. “But my husband, Gregg, was my biggest supporter.
“To my surprise and answer to prayer, three schools within 15 minutes from my home ended up having agriculture teaching openings within a couple years after I went back to finish my degree. I landed at Liberty Union High School as a second teacher in the rapidly growing agriculture department with veteran teacher, Tim Turner.” He was Gregg’s agriculture teacher at Bloom-Carroll, and now serves as Liberty Union administrator.
Perseverance and a new school
She almost gave up the first year.
“You think you know something until you have to teach it,” Bachman said.
Turner was a godsend, offering help with everything from lesson plans to seeing the big picture. Occasionally he would tell her, “I want you to stop and look. Observe all 30 of these students doing what they’re doing (learning and working together). This is what you’re doing.”
“Thanks to Turner, I made it through my first year of teaching without quitting,” she said.
Then came another detour. After almost 13 years at Liberty Union, she decided to be home with her three children and help with the orchard business.
“At the time I wasn’t sure if I would return to the agriculture classroom,” she said. Four and half years later, the Bloom-Carroll position opened, less than 10 minutes from home. She applied, but wasn’t offered the position. The post opened again in a few months. With encouragement from family and community members — including a letter from a student — she applied and got the job.
Grant Lach, then an eighth grade student, wrote encouraging her to apply. He was a neighbor. His mother and Christi knew each other through FFA work.
“Having a letter from a student,” she said, “confirmed my decision.”
Lach, now an OSU astrobiology major, said, “Mrs. Bachman always recognized the value of creativity and being able to solve problems in a way that utilizes everyone’s strengths. I can assure you that the way Mrs. Bachman taught influenced my decision to pursue the fields that I am passionate about.”
She helped him and many others believe they can “… accomplish anything as long as we put in the work. By providing us with numerous opportunities to get involved and get our hands dirty, Mrs. Bachman enables her students to see that the future is going to need creative thinkers, hard workers and of course problem solvers.”
Her principal for the past three years, Nathan Conrad, echoed this view.
“She truly cares about her students, building relationships that help drive the interest of her students in the classroom and within the community. She not only teaches our students, she helps guide and mentor them toward their interest in all aspects of agricultural education.”
Teaching is a two-way street. In recent years one of her most enthusiastic students helped her see the need for making classes as inclusive as possible. A senior this year, he didn’t let effects from a brain tumor, discovered in elementary school, stop him.
“There are times when I wonder why I continue to modify lesson plans late at night, adjust chapter activities and run to the store before it closes to get supplies,” she wrote in her Golden Owl application. It’s because of him and other enthusiastic students. Another reward is seeing students grow from once shy eighth graders into confident seniors giving speeches. “They call me their second mom,” Bachman said. That’s fine. “I’m not afraid to call them out, but I’m also quick to praise.”
Along with classroom work, students have a chance to participate in special projects at Bloom-Carroll High School
AGVenture Day Camp — The weeklong summer program for 100 first through fifth grade students is planned and run by Christi Bachman’s Bloom-Carroll students. She acts as an adviser, while students work in cooperation with village government officials and interested adults to handle the crafts, snacks, lunch and learning sessions aimed at acquainting youngsters with aspects of agriculture.
Farm experience — “We have a land lab that our school board allows us to farm. We work with David Brandt, a local farmer, and Sunrise Cooperative to give our students a chance to make planting and marketing decisions for that acreage,” Bachman said. “We have tested different seed varieties, tillage practices and cover crops on our land. Students also learn about current events that affect the price they may receive for their crops and make marketing decisions based on that knowledge.”
Students also can work with hydroponic and aquaponic projects.
After school — Bachman manages to be involved in so many areas because of a supportive family, that includes her husband, Gregg, and their children Brandon, Lacie and married daughter Leanna Tennant (Sam), who had their first child, Colton in late April. A big plus, she said, “I’m wired to be busy.”
Some of her extracurricular activities include: member of Farm Bureau in Fairfield County, Fairfield County 4-H adviser, Fairfield County Junior Fairboard adviser, the county’s beef show superintendent, and swine show assistant superintendent, chairman of the worship committee and Vacation Bible School director at the Shalom United Methodist Church and Girl Scouts Troop leader. She’s also active in the Ohio Association of Agricultural Educators.