'No farms, no food:' Dover educates on agriculture

Alyssa Jackson
  • Dover High School was visited by key players in agricultural education on Tuesday.
  • The goal was to celebrate PA Agriculture and Food Career Week and learn more about agriculture jobs.
  • Speakers included PDE Secretary Pedro Rivera and PA Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.

Agriculture education is important to kids such as Max Fetrow, a 16-year-old junior at Dover Area High School and the chaplain of the school's Future Farmers of America chapter.

Why is it important, you might ask?

"No farms, no food," Fetrow said matter of factly.

It's the district's focus on agricultural education that was the reason for a visit from Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera and state Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding on Tuesday. The two were among a number of other local figures such as state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, and Dover Mayor Richard Pope.

Redding and Rivera visited the high school to talk to ninth- and 10th-graders about agricultural education and to encourage them to become more involved with the agricultural programs offered in the school district. This was a part of PA Agriculture and Food Career Week.

PA Education Secretary Pedro Rivera speaks during the Dover Area High School Agriculture Education Recognition Day on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. This week marks the celebration for the PA Agriculture & Food Career week.  Amanda J. Cain photo

Agricultural education goes mobile

Before the assembly began, Fetrow explained that he first got involved with the FFA because many of his family is involved and found it fun and educational.

In the FFA, students travel to different conferences all around the country to learn about the agriculture industry and the technology involved. They also take part in judging livestock and other aspects of agriculture at the York Fair and the Pennsylvania Farm Show, Fetrow said. Ultimately, the goal is to encourage more students to go into the agriculture industry and agriculture education.

"There's got to be people to do agriculture jobs," Fetrow said. "If we promote it now, maybe more people will get into it in the future."

PA Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, looks at plants in the Dover Area High School greenhouse, during the Agriculture Education Recognition Day Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. This week marks the celebration for the PA Agriculture & Food Career week. Amanda J. Cain photo

Student emcees Kale Stermer, president of the school's FFA chapter, and Haley Sweitzer, vice president, took turns introducing the speakers for the day, which started with Dover Superintendent Ken Cherry, who talked about his own experiences growing up on a dairy farm and the hard work that ultimately shaped him.

Following Cherry came Rivera, who addressed the students about the changing face of technology. Rivera's 12-year-old son stopped him a few years ago in awe of a payphone and asked Rivera what it was. It was then that Rivera said he truly realized how much technology has changed in just a decade.

It's for this reason that Rivera said the school is preparing students to go into a workforce that doesn't exist yet. He said students will be working with technology and machinery that hasn't yet been created.

"The most important skill you will learn in high school is how to continue learning," Rivera said. "There may not be as many rules you have to memorize, but it will be harder because you have to keep learning and learn how to be a better learner."

Redding talked about the ever-growing population and the struggles that students will face to feed more people with less resources. He mentioned that one of the main ways to connect everyone around the globe is through food, pointing to Pennsylvania's booming agriculture industry as a way the state is intertwined with rest of the world.

"These are extraordinary times, both in the opportunities there are and the challenges," Redding said. "I can tell you both the state and world needs what we produce."

Redding also mentioned that Dover Area High School is one of just 150 schools that offers an agricultural education program. According to a flier handed out to those in attendance, there are 170 students in the district enrolled in agriculture courses. According to high school Principal Jared Wastler, there is a severe need for workers in agriculture and agriculture education, and by offering the courses, the district hopes more students will be interested in these jobs.

An example of such a student is current York Fair Queen and Dover graduate Taylor Shultz, who was involved with the FFA during high school. While addressing the students, she explained that her involvement in the FFA changed the course of her life from wanting to be a veterinarian to wanting to be a agriculture educator, like many of her mentors from the high school.

Before heading on a tour of the school's agriculture education areas, Wastler finished the program by speaking to the students about how lucky they are to be in a district that focuses on agriculture education, unlike his school where it was one of the first programs subject to cuts. Wastler said that agriculture had changed from big tractors to technology that costs more than most people's homes.

"Industries come and go, but one industry has remained, and that's agriculture because it has adapted," Wastler.