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Opening eyes to ag careers

Exploration days show there is more to agriculture than raising crops and livestock.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

May 16, 2023

4 Min Read
Executive gives presentation to students seated at tables in U shapes
HIGH-TECH AG: Lyle Luppes, Cloud Solutions architect with Microsoft, explains to Blooming Prairie, Minn., eighth graders how technology has become an important component of agricultural production. Students got to see firsthand how sensors can help farmers remotely monitor field conditions, such as soil moisture.Kevin Schulz

The growth in agricultural job opportunities has been mirrored in the growth of the Ag Career Exploration Days offered by Farmamerica.

“A few years back, we discovered that there were age groups that maybe should learn about career opportunities in agriculture before they disregard it as a dirty job or just a farmer in the field, and not for them,” says Jessica Rollins, Farmamerica executive director.

Farmamerica is Minnesota’s agricultural interpretive center west of Waseca, Minn., established by the state legislature in 1978 to connect Minnesotans to the evolving story of agriculture through hands-on educational experiences, partnerships, and community engagement.

With the mission of Farmamerica in mind, Rollins and her staff set out to further open the world of agriculture to seventh and eighth graders after talking with members of the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council and GreenSeam.

Rollins says Farmamerica partnered with Junior Achievement in 2017 “to utilize their career readiness curriculum for junior high students, but then we added in the agricultural twist.”

Volunteers from ag business were enlisted to share their personal story and passion for agriculture, and a hands-on activity connected to agriculture was added to what would become Ag Career Exploration Day. That strawberry DNA extraction curriculum from Minnesota Ag in the Classroom was well-received, but the attending students wanted more.

Soon that one hands-on activity became two. Then the “COVID years” messed with the program. Now, six hands-on activities are offered to students coming from within a 70-mile radius for the Ag Career Exploration Days that take place in late April and early May.

Create ag attraction

Jenny Delnay, Farmamerica program director, says these events are “not designed for the kids who already love agriculture. … It’s really designed for the kids who aren’t interested in agriculture to show them ‘Hey, there’s agriculture in all these other ways.’”

Rollins hopes students will start to see there may be a place for them in agriculture as they work through the hands-on activities during these exploration days.

Delnay stresses the program’s use of the Minnesota Career Wheel, a diagram of six different career fields, “and agriculture fits in every section of the wheel. It is not a coincidence that there are six hands-on activities during the Ag Career Exploration Days, as each activity ties into one of the sections of the wheel.”

Watch this video as Jenny Delnay explains how Farmamerica’s Ag Career Exploration Day centers on the Minnesota Career Wheel, and how agriculture is involved in all areas.

The career wheel fields are agriculture, food and natural resources; arts, communications and information systems; engineering, manufacturing and technology; health science technology; human services; and business, management and administration.

Throughout these days, students visit each of the six stations. At this year’s stations, students learned about plant DNA, and during this session they extract DNA from strawberries. Other stops on the career exploration journey are learning the importance of safe food handling, from farm to fork; soil nutrient testing; package design and marketing; exploration of information technology and use of sensors in agriculture; and the Big Ideas Mobile Learning Lab, where students explore various trades through virtual reality technology.

Hands-on opens eyes

Aubrey Klocke, an eighth grader from Blooming Prairie, Minn., knows she wants to do something agriculture-related, probably something centering on animals, but the Ag Career Exploration Day opens her eyes to other possibilities.

Though it may not be a career choice, she did enjoy the virtual reality in the Big Ideas Mobile Learning lab that highlights some of the trade careers in agriculture. “I got to do an oil change on virtual reality — that was pretty cool,” she says. “I never thought I would like that.”

The mission of Big Ideas Inc., based in New Ulm, Minn., is to provide opportunities for people to discover, explore and learn both technical and soft skills needed to succeed in skilled trades. These opportunities are provided through augmented and virtual reality hands-on technologies to engage curious learners, as well as in-shop minicourses to continue the exploration.

Farmamerica offers many other events throughout the year helping all ages connect with the past, present and future of agriculture.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

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