Students at Irvine School in the Prairie Rose Public School Division have a firsthand opportunity to learn about agriculture, sustainability, leadership and collaboration with the new Agriculture Discovery Centre.
The ADC was conceptualized by Nichole Neubauer of Neubauer Farms and presented to PRSD earlier this year. Neubauer, an agriculture educator from a long line of farmers, has been teaching students about food production since 2005.
“(We aim) to teach them where their food comes from and to provide meaningful agriculture connections,” Neubauer told the News. “Less than 2% of the Canadian population actively work in the industry of farming and ranching. Because of that, there’s a great urban-rural disconnect. Helping people understand the Canadian food system is vitally important for the future of the industry.”
The ADC was born out of Neubauer’s desire to connect with young people in a site-based learning environment.
“Prairie Rose has really set their sights on educating differently and creating environments where students can thrived based on their own personal interests and aspirations,” said Neubauer. “So the Agriculture Discovery Centre fit in really well with their idea of creating different meaningful ways to educate students.”
The 200-foot-by-200-foot space, which sits on the edge of the Irvine School property line, houses a physical structure that will act as a learning centre, classroom and meeting area, as well as what will become a small orchard, a garden, a chicken coop, an observation area and livestock pens for approximately 15 animals.
Neubauer also hopes to include an irrigation system, greenhouse, soil-testing station, egg-incubator and possibly a vermicomposting system.
“It’s active learning,” Neubauer said. “We can give developmentally appropriate jobs for the skill set and age of the students.”
The project is still in its early stages but students are already involved.
“We take the term ‘student-managed farm’ very seriously. We want the majority of the ideas, direction and input to come from students with some overarching guidance from educators, myself and subject matter experts in the industry.”
The ADC will not only build skills related to agriculture, as students will also learn about governance, entrepreneurship and finances, among other skills. Neubauer structured the ADC like a non-profit organization. This means students will hold roles like president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. There will also be committees to which students are elected.
Neubauer hopes students involved in the program might consider careers in agriculture, but believes this form of education will be valuable even for students who don’t continue in the field.
“It’s been said time and time again that our population of the world is going to exceed 9 billion people by 2050 … The central ‘why’ for this program is looking forward to 2050,” said Neubauer. “We need to get (students) thinking critically about the environment and about people … Placing priority on people, planet and profit is vital.”
Neubauer believes the ADC program will equip students with the knowledge they need to thrive in the future, and hopes the program model may one day be applied elsewhere across Canada.
“With the amazing support of Prairie Rose leadership, the teachers, the students and the community, we are working towards (creating) a gold-seal template for how to do agriculture education in a rural setting,” she said.
KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News