LONGMONT — Chicks were hatching in wire pens, pregnant pigs were resting on straw and Texas longhorns were trotting around in the mud Friday at the Career Development Center.
But this barnyard is really just an alternative classroom for 65 students representing a half-dozen high schools in the St. Vrain Valley School District.
Despite CDC’s proximity to Little Silicon Valley and the way prairie mansions have gobbled up much of the area’s prime farmland, agriculture education has survived — maybe even thrived.
According to Becca Huth, the district’s new Agri Science & Technology teacher and Future Farmer’s of America adviser, class size doubled this year and for the first time included slightly more young women than young men.
The program encompasses three mandatory areas: classroom participation, FFA membership and supervised agricultural experiences, she said.
Part of the interest, Huth said, comes from the age-old attraction of caring for animals and appreciating land as a life link.
Until Larissa Emerson enrolled in the CDC program and took on a requisite FFA project, she “didn’t realize how much the world revolves around it.”
She knows better now after two years of ag-related participation.
“Everywhere you go, anywhere you go, you will see something that involves agriculture — shampoo, food and clothing,” said Emerson, 16, who is home-schooled.
Kristina Eastis values ag education and FFA membership because both helped her cope with personal problems that landed her in Mountain States Children’s Home north of Longmont.
“(Caring for animals) takes the focus off yourself. It helps you care more about nature and watching things grow,” said the Skyline High School senior. “It gives you a new perspective.”
That does not mean Eastis has committed to a career in agriculture.
But the literal down-to-earth aspects of this educational experience has prepared her to “go out into the business world” with more poise, she said.
“Before this, I hated talking in front of a bunch of people,” Eastis, 18, said. “I’m still really nervous. But (demonstrating FFA projects) takes your low points and helps you raise them up.”
Still, manure and mud don’t usually mix with otherwise urban or suburban young women or, for that matter, young men.
Huth suspects a combination of curiosity and comfort draws students to the program.
“I get students from all walks of life and when they come to this class and experience this lifestyle they find comfort, and a comfortable learning environment allows students to blossom,” Huth said.
The comfort comes from the routines and responsibilities of growing plants and rearing animals, she said.
Though Frederick High senior Jed Gooras grew up in Longmont, the 17-year-old has known since childhood he wanted to get into farming or agribusiness.
“This (program) gives me a place to connect with other people who have these same interests,” he said.
Ultimately, though, the barnyard is more of a lab than a feedlot.
Students treat animals like pets.
Frederick High School junior Kadie Himmelreich, an Erie resident who keeps a pair of Texas longhorns named Yoda and Pepper on campus, fits that bill.
“A lot of people think cattle are just good for eating,” said Himmelreich, 16. “But they’re good for parades, too.”