Ever since agriculture education was reinstituted at North Crawford from an upswelling of student demand, the program has proved more popular every year. The board was moved to reinstitute the program after hearing a passionate appeal of graduating senior Grace Corlis.
The school district chose Mackenzie Knutson as their instructor in May of 2019. The local woman has a strong background in agriculture. In February of 2020, the board voted to increase Knutson’s position from part-time to full-time, and to approve summer hours for her as well.
Perhaps more so than other educational programs at the school, the pandemic-related virtual education threw Knutson and her students a bit of a curve ball.
“Agriculture education is best as a hands-on curriculum,” Knutson explained. “So trying to engage students with a hands-on activity in a virtual platform, and keep their interest up, was a little challenging.”
Just before the pandemic closed schools in March of 2020, Knutson had led her FFA program in sponsoring games for the whole school to celebrate National FFA Week. The games included wheelbarrow races, turkey bowling, apple stacking, tractor tire tossing, a mini-tractor pull, and more.
Perhaps, the highlight of the event was when high school chemistry teacher Luke Zitzner kissed a pig in front of the assembled students. Zitzner, one of four teachers that volunteered, was selected by a system of allowing students to place pennies in jars in the office. The teacher who got the most pennies had to kiss the pig.
Now, nearing the end of the tumultuous and challenging 2020-21 school year, Knutson reports that her first year as a full-time teacher was “pretty exciting.” Knutson said that in the 2020-21 school year, she has had a total of 22 students in her classes.
“In my plant and animal science classes, we focused on production agriculture,” Knutson said. “In animal science, we learned about animal nutrition, and even got to incubate some eggs and hatch some chicks. In plant science, we learned about soils through soil sampling and testing, and studied the structure and leaves of plants.”
When students take these classes, they are able to earn a science credit toward graduation. Knutson says that while most of her students don’t anticipate a career in farming, her classes expose them to other employment options within the agricultural industry.
Knutson said that she views her Introduction to Agriculture as a “fun class,” where the curriculum is geared toward student interests. The class has learned about the pumpkin industry, and carved pumpkins; learned about the floral industry and made floral arrangements; and learned about the forestry industry and made their own wreaths.
Her fourth class, Food Science, is action-packed with all sorts of engaging, practical and tasty lessons. Students in that class learned about dairy products, canned salsa using some ingredients from the school garden, and even got to experiment with different beef products due to a $100 grant from the Wisconsin Beef Council.
“I purchased whole muscle and ground beef from the Eastman Locker, and the students got to practice making beef jerky from both products,” Knutson said. “They learned how to measure the cure and seasoning, and with the whole muscle, they learned how to make a marinade.”
Knutson said that as she spoke with the Independent-Scout, the beef jerky was in the dehydrator and the students “couldn’t wait to try it.” She said that she has been able to purchase a dehydrator, meat grinder and sausage stuffer for her classroom, and her student’s next project will be learning how to make brats.
FFA is building again
After not having had FFA at the school for a number of years, Knutson is working to rebuild the program.
“With all the uncertainty of the pandemic, things were a little slower in the fall, but we’re gradually starting to do things again,” Knutson explained. “Right now, we are working on officer applications for next year, and we have also been able to get students to do some career development competitions in a virtual format.”
Knutson said that she has a big vision for the kinds of programs she would like to offer the kids in the FFA program that include things like building a greenhouse, attending the state convention in July, and more.
On Saturday, May 8, the Old Iron Revival Antique Tractor Pull will be held in Gays Mills. It was announced earlier that all proceeds from the event will be donated to the North Crawford FFA Club.
Then, the following week, the club will be involved in two events.
On Wednesday, May 12, the club members will offer a drive-through farmer breakfast at the school from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Knutson says that the breakfast will be offered to honor the hard work of farmers in one of the busiest times of the year – spring planting season. She said the club had not been able to do anything for National Agriculture Day in March, and so this event is kind of a replacement for that.
The other event coming up next week is the club’s involvement in the North Crawford Car Show on Friday, April 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Knutson said the club had been recruited to help with the event by the school nurse John Powell.
“Even though we won’t be able to have a food stand this year, the club will have T-shirts for sale to help fund our activities,” Knutson said. “As far as helping club members to participate in Crawford County Fair events, Knutson says that she is not aware of any students that plan to exhibit this year, but hopes to have members doing so in future years. Knutson herself has been appointed as Co-Superintendent of Livestock at this year’s fair.