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There is no way to separate Clyde Green Springs High School and Vanguard-Sentinel Vocational School agriculture teacher Barrett Zimmerman and his job. That’s why Zimmerman was the ideal candidate to win this year’s Golden Owl Award at the 94th Ohio FFA Convention held in May.
The Golden Owl Award recognizes agricultural educators across Ohio for their tremendous contributions to helping the next generation of agricultural leaders. The annual award is made possible through a partnership among Nationwide, Ohio FFA, Ohio Farm Bureau, Farm Credit Mid-America and AgCredit, ACA. Zimmerman was one of 109 Ohio ag instructors nominated for the award and one of 10 finalists.
Zimmerman’s love for agriculture — more specifically, ag education — is deep-rooted. This past spring, Zimmerman, better known to his students as “Z”, completed his 29th year as an ag educator. He has worked for Vanguard-Sentinel Vocational School his entire career, and has taught at Clyde Green Springs High School in Sandusky County through their satellite program for 26 of those years. When he was a student himself, Zimmerman was taught by his dad, further driving his interest in the career path. His father was an ag teacher for nearly 35 years.
“I really enjoyed my ag program in high school,” Zimmerman said. “I never really wanted to do anything other than be an ag teacher.”
Destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, Zimmerman graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University in ag education in 1992. During his first year of teaching he went on to earn his master’s degree.
During his career, Zimmerman also supervised six student teachers and many early field experience students. He has also served on a variety of committees and boards, including the Ohio FFA Association board of trustees.
“I always enjoy talking with people about my career. Many people are surprised by what we do in a day,” Zimmerman said. “In one class you might be teaching them how to present a speech, in the next you might be teaching them how to weld, wire or solve a nutrition problem for livestock. It’s fun to teach them and their parents how diverse agriculture really is.”
Winning the award was a test of Zimmerman’s low-key style.
“I am a pretty humble person, I don’t really like too much recognition,” he said. “I really couldn’t do what I’m doing without the tremendous support of the community, school, students, parents and all the companies that support the FFA and 4-H programs.”
Zimmerman is especially thankful to work for Vanguard-Sentinel Vocational School, which provides direct access to experts in specialized areas from horticulture to mechanics.
“If I’m looking for an answer about welding, I can go ask the welding instructor. If I need to know something about mechanics, there’s an instructor for that,” Zimmerman said.
Those people and resources around him certainly have made an impact, however Zimmerman’s dedication to the field is what sets him apart from the rest.
“Mr. Zimmerman always goes out of his way. No matter who the student is, he makes sure they have the best experience,” reads a student nomination. “He always wants to make sure that the kids who join our ag program are active and gives us many opportunities to do that.”
An array of programs
Each year, Zimmerman helps coordinate various projects and programs including the Organic Recyclable Trash program that was started by a former educator and focuses on recycling uneaten food in the cafeteria.
Each student is taught to place leftover vegetables in one bucket and meat and bread in another. Students are assigned to weigh the food each day. Last year, there were nearly two tons of food collected and recycled. The food was used to feed pigs and chickens and also was placed in the school’s compost pile.
Zimmerman hopes to expand the ORT program by including the middle school next year and eventually the elementary schools, as well.
“The ORT program isn’t the only one that focuses on recycling,” Zimmerman said. “All of our projects use recycled materials.”
Zimmerman tears down barns throughout the summer and saves scraps to be used for many of the projects he assigns each year, including memorial benches that are displayed at the fair each summer.
He also helps students manage 46 acres of farmland and 33 beehives. Together, Zimmerman and the students manage various aspects of farming including planting and harvesting and complete mite treatments, make splits and monitor the health of the honey bees.
“We love our honey bees,” Zimmerman said. “We sell any honey produced during our annual fruit sales each year.”
In addition to more traditional agricultural activities, Zimmerman also coordinates and coaches a 17-member trap shooting team.
“Each year we receive a grant from the NRA [National Rifle Association], which is combined with funding from the Clyde Young Farmers Association, to help fund trap shooting supplies and competitions,” Zimmerman said. “We practice every Monday night and compete at various tournaments.”
Of course, many of these activities don’t simply end with the school year. While other teachers are enjoying summer break, Zimmerman takes every opportunity to continue to give students a different kind of education, through hands-on, real-life experience.
“There’s more education that occurs outside of the classroom than in the classroom,” Zimmerman said. “Those who hang out with me during the summer get a great experience.”
FFA program growth
Last year, Zimmerman taught approximately 115 students and just 10 of them actually had previous direct ag experience.
“Through ag education, we’ve been getting kids jobs and staying current in technology,” Zimmerman said. “It’s wonderful to see the number of kids in our county in our programs grow every year — and, it’s not just ag kids.”
During the 2021-2022 school year, the Ohio FFA Association reached an all-time high membership of 27,721 members among 326 chapters. Between 2019 and 2022, the Ohio FFA Association has chartered 17 new chapters.
“Agricultural education is offered in response to local interest in the programs, so FFA chapter growth happens organically as communities see a need for the programming,” said Jessica Parrish, Ohio FFA Foundation’s executive director. “Some of the recent growth can be attributed to the increasing number of active middle school members.”
Next year, Zimmerman will see his love for ag education come full-circle as he’ll begin teaching alongside one of his former students, who will help launch Clyde’s middle school program.
Clyde High School has 140 students signed up for ag-related courses for the 2022-2023 school year. Zimmerman is excited to begin offering these courses to middle school students who can join in the fun.
“I’m blown away that we could have 20-plus kids in our program next year,” Zimmerman said. “It seems like kids and parents are finally getting the message — we need people skilled in trades.”
And Zimmerman is thrilled to continue to play, what he considers, a small part in it.
“Agricultural educators play an important role in not only their schools and communities, but also in their students’ lives,” said Parrish. “They invest a significant amount of time, energy and resources day-after-day – both in and out of the classroom – to help their students succeed. The Golden Owl Award recognizes dedicated educators across Ohio for their tremendous contributions in preparing the next generation of leaders.”
2022 Golden Owl Finalists
The other nine finalists for the 2022 Golden Owl award include Abby Campbell, Fort Frye; Eric Heeg, Blanchester Great Oaks; Sarah Heilers, Anna; Tim Kilpatrick, Coshocton County Career Center; Lowell Moodt, Grand Valley; Laura Ringler, Plymouth; Tricia Schoen, Genoa-Penta; Aaron Thompson, Upper Scioto Valley; and Jeff Tilley, Amanda-Clearcreek. Each honoree earned his/her school’s agricultural education program $500 to be used toward classroom supplies and instruction. Zimmerman’s Ohio Ag Teacher of the Year accolade earned Clyde High School $3,000.
2023 Golden Owl Award applications due Dec. 31
Presented by Nationwide, the Ohio FFA, Ohio Farm Bureau, Farm Credit Mid-America and AgCredit, the Golden Owl Award recognizes agricultural educators across Ohio for their tremendous contributions to helping the next generation of agricultural leaders. Students, fellow teachers and other supporters can nominate their favorite agricultural teacher and summarize what makes him or her the best in the state.
Nominees have an opportunity to win the title of Ohio Agricultural Educator of the Year and great cash prizes for their school’s ag program. Prizes include:
One Grand Prize Winner: Trophy and $3,000 cash prize to winner’s school/FFA chapter.
10 Honorees: Plaque and $500 cash prize to honoree’s school/FFA chapter.
Nominate your favorite ag educator by Dec. 31, 2022.
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