“If you build it, they will come” … but will they? That’s one of the questions an Idaho FFA chapter is considering after the recent purchase of 2.4 acres of land.
The Kimberly School District recently closed on land located just south of the middle and high school campuses, as part of a 25-year school expansion project. But it could actually be 25 years before the land is needed for a frontage street and in the meantime, the Kimberly FFA is looking to use the land for some livestock projects.
“For us, it was an opportunity, as our program has grown, to see that we have some kids that would like to have animals, that would like to raise those animals, maybe exhibit them at the fair, and as a way for our animal science classes to get some more hands-on experiences,” said Cody Porath, Kimberly Agriculture Education Teacher and FFA Advisor.
Porath, who just finished his 11th year at Kimberly, said the chapter is actually “feeling the waters” with the school farm. Since the 4-mile-wide, 7-mile-long school district is located in a bedroom community to Twin Falls, most of the students do not come into the program with production agriculture backgrounds. Instead Kimberly has tried to offer a diverse curriculum, focusing on fisheries and wildlife, natural resources, food science, and food production classes to expose students to all areas of agriculture.
The 110-member chapter has had strong representation at state level career development events over the past few years and relatively strong success at the national level. Kimberly’s dairy food teams usually finish in the top five or top ten at nationals and three years ago, the team took second in the nation. The chapter has also had success in areas such as food science, florals, and job interviews, and State Star finalists and winners in areas of agriscience and ag business.
“I think for the most part, our kids have found success when they want to do that,” Porath said. “We try to get some drive and encouragement behind them, but when they buckle down I think there is some great opportunities at Kimberly for kids to find success in those areas.”
Since the community is strong in dairy and food production, Porath and the other two members on Kimberly’s agriculture education team often try to get students in to see companies such as Chobani, Glanbia, Idaho Milk Products, and ConAgra.
“I think for us it is trying to work on the exposure and the diversity for those kids to see how broad agriculture is,” Porath said.
Now with the land available, the Kimberly agriculture education teachers are hoping they can get students on board to raise animals on the land located less than a quarter mile away from the school.
Porath, who taught in Oregon previously and visited programs in Texas, has seen land labs up close, but it is not something common in the state of Idaho, and especially not that close in proximity to a school.
“It’s one of those things that would be a rare thing in Idaho,” Porath said. “Right now, I’m thinking in getting this going … who would I call in the state of Idaho and no names come up.”
Between now and next spring, an old milking barn will have to be taken down and some clean up will need to be conducted on the property. Porath hopes the students will be able to use some of the existing corrals to house animals next spring to get ready for fair season. The school will also need to look at the conditions of the facilities on the property and the health of the animals that were housed there previously before bringing livestock in.
Porath hopes the land can be used not only for housing animals, but also for artificial insemination and embryology work with local veterinarians – an area of expertise often needed in the Magic Valley area.
“This is mainly going to be an animal facility and there seems to be some kind of draw and some kind of relationship between people and animals,” Porath said. “Kids like to see how animals grow, they like to try to understand from a science aspect what is going on with those animals, and they like to see them. You can look through books and any more you can get on the web and find almost anything you want, but to actually put your hands on animals, see them in their living conditions … I think that is going to really help us grow as we look to the future.”
As Porath looks to the future, his main concern — are the kids going to follow through and how to manage those kids when Kimberly’s prime land lab time is mainly during the summer with show season and county fairs.
“We have to create buy in from the kids and we have to be careful and start with some smaller steps,” Porath said. “I anticipate the excitement but also how do we make sure we got some follow through from the kids and some buy in from the kids and parents that this is going to be a positive thing.”
Despite summer being a busy time, Porath hopes the program will attract some kids who have been previously reluctant to get involved in FFA.
“It’s a challenge but I think it will be fun and in the end, it will be good,” Porath said. “I can’t say I have zero reservations but I definitely think the good outweighs the bad in this situation.”
We can’t wait to see this program take off. Good luck Kimberly FFA!