High school students in Port Alberni are learning the A-B-Cs of agriculture in a new Grade 12 course.
Sustainable Resources 12: Agriculture this semester will offer 29 students at Alberni District Secondary School agricultural theory and allows them hands-on experience with local farmers. Students also receive science course credits.
“Food security and sustainability issues are a growing concern with people today,” course instructor Kirsten Abercrombie said. “If you think about it, you feed yourself three times a day so you should be concerned about where your food comes from and how it’s made.”
Students will learn about everything from soil biology and water management, to policy issues and local agricultural issues.
A section of land at ADSS has been set aside for agricultural students to design, plant and grow their own vegetable plots.
“It’s winter so we’ll be working on a lot of theory and basics,” Abercrombie said. “But once the weather gets better we’ll be outside in groups tending to the plots.”
The idea for the course came about during the building of the new high school, Abercrombie said. A group of teachers who were avid gardeners talked about the idea of a school garden.
A gardener herself, Abercrombie researched the curriculum database and found the course. “I asked [former principal] Mike Ruttan if I could pursue it and he supported it,” she said.
The course is off the ground but it still has challenges. The garden had to be scaled back. And the course’s resources are limited. “We would welcome donations of any tools or anything that would help us,” Abercrombie said.
Students will also undertake an initiative that will see the work with local farmers and farms, gaining first-hand knowledge and expertise on local agricultural issues. The class is visiting Leda Organic Farm as well as Arrowvale Farm and others as part of the plan.
“Local farmers understand the need to foster a passion for agriculture in the young,” Abercrombie said.
Grade 12 student Makenna Cyr is taking the course because she has a passion for agriculture that pre-dates the program.
Cyr, 17, lives on a five-acre hobby farm with her parents, and has been a member of the local 4-H club for the past seven years.
Her passion goes beyond 4-H though, as she has worked with the BC Ministry of Agriculture and BC Agriculture in the Classroom. “People need to know what organic really means, or what hormones are in your beef.
“People need to understand what these things mean.”
Students also need to learn that they can influence the agricultural industry, she added. “Farmers grow what consumers want,” she said.
Cyr has applied for entry into the University of Alberta and to North Island College. “I want to become an agricultural teacher after I graduate,” Cyr said.
Taking an agricultural class has already been a learning experience for Grade 12 student Nolan Woodfin. “I’d like to learn how to grow my own plants and my own food,” he said.
Woodfin never lived on a farm. His only exposure to them is driving by them, he said.
“But my older brother really got into growing his own food and that’s where I first noticed it,” he said.
The class recently learned about Hugel culture, a method of gardening that uses mound logs, branches, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or other available biomass, topped with soil with veggies planted in it.
“I never knew it existed,”Woodfin said.