“The Farmington High school is very fortunate this year in having in its curriculum a course in Agriculture. This course is financed by the Federal government 50%, the State 25%, and the School 25%.”
And so, the new agriculture course at Farmington High School was introduced by a student writer in the Sept. 30, 1938 edition of the Dakota County Tribune.
The 75th anniversary of agriculture as a course in Farmington High School won’t likely receive a lot of fanfare. In fact, these days, FHS ag teacher Ken Schentzel doesn’t even teach some of the traditional classes once associated with the ag program.
But Schentzel does teach seven courses related to agriculture, and he’s got about 130 students enrolled this year in the first trimester alone, so the program lives on all these years later.
Things were a lot different back in the 1930s. Farming was a popular vocation for families. It was a hands-on, labor intensive industry, and students sometimes missed school in order to complete chores around the family farm.
The 1938-39 school year marked the first year for the new agriculture program. Taught by E. E. Bjuge, the classes were open to boys who were interested in farming and farming occupations. The classes were part of a four-year course, and students had to use their work at their own homes as the basis of their homework.
“Each boy is expected to carry on a program of farm practice which has as its aim a means of providing a cash income and also to make a contribution toward the improvement of the farm,” Bjuge wrote in a July 29, 1938 article in the Dakota County Tribune. “The projects are divided into productive and improvement projects. The productive projects include any enterprise on the farm that can be carried on as a means of earning money. The improvement projects include such activities as keeping milk production records and testing for butterfat, beautifying the homestead and improving the woodlot.”
Courses offered included dairy enterprise, horse enterprise, sheep raising, small grains, hay and pasture crops, farm mechanics, horticulture, forestry and farm management.
In the early years, the ag students could participate in the Future Farmers of Minnesota. The state organization offered courses students could participate in, like the Future Farmers Livestock Marketing School. The students also traveled to places like the University of Minnesota and the South St. Paul stockyards as part of their coursework.
An individual Future Farmers of America chapter wasn’t chartered at FHS until 1949, Schentzel said. He’s got a good two dozen of the FHS FFA scrapbooks in storage in his room. Over time, even the scope of FFA changed. In 1989, for instance, the name “Future Farmers of America” was dropped nationwide to simply FFA. The reason, he said, was that high school students of the time were losing interest in what they saw as a “club for farm kids.”
A new era
That’s not to say Farmington’s FFA chapter has gone by the wayside. The local FFA chapter is still going strong, with students traveling to contests and leadership classes around the state and region annually.
In the spring, the FFA students bring animals to Farmington elementary schools and set up a petting zoo for younger kids. The FFA students share information about the animals with the elementary school kids, too.
Back in Schentzel’s classrooms, he’s still teaching classes related to a couple of the original concepts of the agriculture program. Forestry, for example, is now replaced by his wildlife and nature class. The farm mechanics course of 1938 now takes its form in his small engines and advanced engines classes.
“Everything in modern agriculture uses engines,” Schentzel said. “There’s not that much difference between a 300 horsepower tractor and a small engine. The basics inside an engine haven’t changed that much in over 100 years.”
But the livestock classes are not really necessary anymore, because there simply are not enough students coming in from family farms who need those courses. Instead, Schentzel teaches a class for students to raise small companion animals, like dogs and cats. In that class, he’s able to relate some aspects of raising livestock — like comparing the similarities between a dog’s digestive system and a horse’s — but the focus is still on domestic animals.
In recent years, the concept of organic farming and sustainable farming has started to gain popularity, so Schentzel’s animal science class addresses the kinds of issues students might come across if they were running a small hobby farm. He also has a horticulture class available, but is not running it this trimester.
Though the nature of the ag classes at Farmington High School has changed over the years, Schentzel’s underlying message is simple, regardless of what class he teaches.
“A good chunk of the stuff I teach is nontraditional, but it’s relating how agriculture is important for everybody,” he said.