New model farm at Medina teaches FFA students agriculture and life skills
Medina Central School
MEDINA – The FFA is drawing all sorts of Medina students who are interested in agricultural science. The FFA was formerly known as the Future Farmers of America and even though a large number of the 120 students enrolled in the program did not grow up on a farm, they are interested in farming, livestock and food.
Medina High School Agriculture Education teacher Todd Eick has been in charge of the school’s FFA for the past four years.
“Thanks to a Monsanto grant for $25,000 it allowed us to build a miniature working farm, purchase a hydroponics unit, and will allow us the opportunity to install a couple community gardens,” Eick said. “We have also had a number of generous donations of livestock and machinery which has allowed the students to learn all sorts of aspects of farming. A former student has invented a seed starting machine that we have incorporated into the program. We are testing it out for him and giving him feedback. That has been pretty neat for the students and great for him since this is the age group of the farmer who will be using this in agriculture.”
The farm consists of a barn, a pasture, a rabbitry and there are hopes, thanks to the annual citrus sale fundraiser and other fundraisers, of adding chicken coops and a small medical center within the barn.
“The model farm doesn’t cost the district a cent,” Eick said. “Our intent is that it won’t and we will run this all with grants, donations and fundraising.”
The livestock consists of a calf, a goat, two sheep, two llamas and 21 Black Copper Maran chickens that are year-round residents at the farm.
Eick, his family and volunteers take care of them when school is closed and the students divide up chores during the school year.
“They are responsible for the animals, everything from feeding them, giving them their vaccinations and repairing their habitat,” Eick said. “We were recently gifted with the Black Copper Marans. They were donated earlier than expected, so the students also had to figure out how to house them and feed them. It was a great learning experience for them.”
The chickens are gourmet birds that produce chocolate brown eggs which are highly prized by chefs, so the students have been learning about breeding and selling the eggs and the chickens.
Eick says he does a survey at the beginning of the school year and asks the students what they want to focus on.
“We have a very heavy veterinarian science curriculum,” he said. “Obviously it is very hands-on with the students literally getting their hands dirty with the soil, building and animals. What is nice is that the curriculum, although relatively set, is student driven, not state driven. The students love it here and have really stepped up to the plate to get the farm in shape.”
Freshman Jack Hill says the organization is a lot of fun. “One of the reasons I like coming here is you are not just sitting at a desk. You are going outside and you are doing all sorts of cool projects.”
Charlie Ricci has been with the FFA since the 6th grade. “Everything here is agriculture based and I love that it is hands-on and not a lot of text. I am looking forward to using the hydroponics in our greenhouse to grow feed for the animals.”
When it comes to mechanics, Mr. Eick encourages the students to take either the Diesel/Agricultural Mechanics or Welding programs at Orleans/Niagara BOCES to give them other skills that will benefit them if they decide to own or work on a farm.
“Obviously I can’t teach everything, so this is a good way for them to enhance their education and save money doing their own repairs,” he said.
Many people think that the FFA is about tractors and cows, Eick said, but the Medina programfocuses on the science of agriculture and growing crops to either feed people or livestock.
“Because we are really interactive I think it is more valuable to students and they see why it is important to keep the barn clean and how to handle animals correctly,” he said. “We are fortunate to have it all right here for them,” as he points to the picturesque farm across the school parking lot.
“Even though it is small scale, it is good learning environment for them,” Eick said. “They have to think about where are the animals going to sleep, how are we going to feed them, where do you get the money to make repairs or add to the farm. It is teaching them to be self-sufficient and creative. These are skills that will translate into whatever career they decide upon.”