HAGERMAN — The students stood at a stainless steel countertop, taking turns cutting greens and fetching ingredients. At the end of the class, they broke out a bag of tortilla chips and dipped them into the bowl of pico de gallo they had just made with their own hands.
The salsa looked professionally prepared and delicious. But Kirt Martin, one of two teachers for Hagerman High School’s Academy of Agriculture and Food Science class, says there’s a lot more to this classroom, full of stoves, knives and cutting boards, than just cuisine.
“It’s not a kitchen,” Martin said. “It’s a food science lab.”
Hagerman High School has begun an innovative course that combines ag production and food preparation, the first of its kind in the state. Students learn how to raise fish, grow crops, make cheese, process wild game, cure meats and more. It’s a smorgasbord of a class, one that teaches students about food from seed or egg, all the way to the dinner plate.
For a town like Hagerman, in the heart of the Magic Valley, it’s important to give students skills that give them the opportunity to stay close to home, Academy of Ag and Food Science teacher Daniel Knapp said.
“That’s what is most important: The kids are ready for a real job, and a real career, to pay some real bills,” Knapp said. “Idaho is not very good at doing that.”
Thanks to Hagerman’s class, Idaho might get better at doing it. While the class isn’t state-approved yet, Knapp said the Idaho State Department of Education agrees the class is needed. He said many schools around the state, and even schools around the country, are calling about the course, and some are likely to start their own. Hagerman could be a leader for a new type of education.
Safe practice makes perfect
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Martin points to two primary benefits when he discusses Hagerman’s one-of-a-kind class. The first is nutrition. Martin has been in the restaurant business for 40 years, has owned the Snake River Grill in Hagerman for 20 years and harbors a strong distrust of heavily processed foods.
He takes great pride in teaching students about healthy eating. For instance, he has his class use fresh ingredients, and students work with meats low in fats.
But there’s also a valuable technical component to the curriculum. At the end of the course, students become certified in three different kinds of food prep: ServSafe, Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point.
“Probably the most important thing (Martin) is teaching is how to keep the food safe is your processing it,” Knapp said.
Those skills will make Hagerman graduates well-prepared for jobs in the Magic Valley.
“Now, these students come out of here, they’ll be able to go to any one of the food industries,” Martin said “Chobani, Clif Bar, Glanbia, whatever.”
Martin said that the College of Southern Idaho wants to begin a dual accreditation program with the school. He says that next year, students who take the course at Hagerman and matriculate to CSI will receive credit for having taken the high school class. From CSI’s side, the class will be known as Ag Food Science 180.
Knapp and Martin have big plans for the course. They hope they’ve begun a trend. Martin said that he wants as many people as possible to benefit from the idea. That’s why the class has put together a series of videos, where students prepare a recipe on camera, just as if they were on the Food Network. The videos are on the AAFS AGFSCI YouTube channel.
“It’s just moving so fast it’s unreal,” Martin said. “The phone’s ringin’.”