Fistula, Floods, and Farmers: A Look at Summer Ag Institute

Joel reaches in through a fistula to explore a cow's rumen.
Joel reaches in through a fistula to explore a cow’s rumen.

A project of the Oregon Farm Bureau Foundation for Education, the Summer Ag Institute (SAI) is a three-credit, week-long, graduate-level class through Oregon State University that educates K-12 teachers with little or no background in agriculture. The action-packed week includes field trips to farms and ranches, tours of processing plants, and lectures and hands-on labs taught by university professors. The goal of SAI is to help educators use agriculture as a context for teaching various subjects. Benton SWCD offers one scholarship for an educator in Benton County to attend the Corvallis session of SAI each summer. In 2015, Joel Kropf of Linus Pauling Middle School was awarded the scholarship. Here is his entertaining description of the week.

My instructor for the Summer Ag Institute, Greg Thompson, liked to say that the class was set up to provide us educators with a “minds on, hands on and hands in learning experience”, and it was every bit of that and more (as you can see the “hands in” part in the picture above). For five days straight we were whisked around the Willamette Valley visiting every different type of agriculturalist in the area. The speakers were informative and personal; sharing stories about how the farming industry is evolving, which in turn causes their practices to adapt. I was amazed and humbled by their hardworking lifestyle and drive to be at the forefront of progress. My experiences in this class will help my instruction at Linus Pauling Middle School by providing me with a context in which to wrap some of the “big ideas” in my earth science and physical science curriculum.

Through SAI, I was given first-hand experiences in the agriculture industry. Each of the presenters was so unique and passionate in their own way. One of my major “aha” moments was when we visited the Glasers, a 5th generation grass seed farmer family in the Willamette Valley. My main take-away from this visit was that farming requires a lot of ingenuity and tenacity. The Glasers were utilizing the latest technology in order to stay productive, and if the required technology wasn’t available, they would engineer and fabricate the equipment themselves. An example of such technology was when they equipped all of their tractors with GPS to ensure the equipment was driven in the most efficient way. As a result they decreased annual fuel consumption by approximately 25%.

Ingenuity and tenacity are traits that I believe will help make all students achieve personal success along with a feeling of connectedness to their community. In the upcoming years I plan to foster these traits in my students by speaking to them about what I had witnessed and experienced in this class, helping them become aware of future job opportunities in the commodities industry, and creating activities that help them practice their own ingenuity.

A specific activity I have developed since being a part of SAI has to do with some of the soil information I learned from one of our speakers, James Cassidy. This is a week-long activity surrounding that cataclysmic geologic event called the Missoula Floods. This event works well as a kick off to my weathering and erosion unit. My goal with the activity was to get them thinking like James Harlen Bretz did while he was discovering and developing his ideas on the Missoula Floods, and to give them a context to relate to when learning weathering, erosion, and soil.

In short, SAI is a fantastic class that will keep you on your toes throughout its entirety. You will learn about the vast amount of commodities produced in the valley, and most importantly you will get to meet the growers first hand and hear about the lifestyle they live. Much is to be learned from this class, and I hope to pass even just a fraction of those learnings to my students.