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TWIN FALLS — Jerome High School’s agriculture program has grown exponentially since 1992 when there were only 45 students. Now, there are more than 400.

This school year, Jerome Middle School hired a full-time agriculture teacher and offers classes for seventh- and eighth-graders.

The Jerome schools are just two of many across the Magic Valley — particularly in rural communities — that are either planning to expand their agriculture education programs or have already done so.

At Jerome High, agriculture program classes cover topics such as welding, small engines, woodworking, greenhouse, agriculture systems, floral design, food science, animal science, dairy science, small animal care, forestry and wildlife, and equine science. The high school has three agriculture teachers.

“It’s quite a huge umbrella,” said agriculture teacher and FFA adviser Tom Clifton. “We’re kind of a one-stop shop in Jerome for kids who are wanting hands-on, applicable electives.”

Clifton said he’d like to continue to expand the program and has talked with school administrators about it, but a lot depends on student numbers.

“We always have plans in the background for expanding,” he said.

Here’s how five more Magic Valley schools are planning to grow their agriculture programs:

Declo High School

One of the projects in the Cassia County School District’s $56.7 million bond — which went to voters Tuesday — was to purchase land and build a new agriculture science building at Declo High School. However, voters rejected the ballot measure.

Agriculture science teacher Jesse Miller, who’s in his 15th year at Declo High, used to have as many as 50 students in one class. He bought TV trays to use as extra desks.

Three years ago, the school hired a second agriculture teacher.

“That allowed for her to teach a different variety of courses,” Miller said, including advanced animal science and an elective agriculture class for eighth-graders.

Miller, who teaches mostly shop classes, expanded to offer more advanced welding opportunities. And he saw his class sizes drop a little. Students can also earn science credit for taking advanced agriculture classes.

Now, about 200 of Declo High’s approximately 300 students are taking agriculture classes.

“Over the years, more and more kids were drawn to the program,” Miller said.

Filer High School

To keep up with growing student numbers and interest in agriculture classes, Filer High School hired a second instructor last school year.

“We needed a second teacher to broaden and expand programs we have here,” agriculture science teacher Brian Wolf said.

It allowed the school to expand its class offerings. But now, it’s facing another challenge: a shortage of building space to accommodate students and supplies.

One project included in a $9.9 million Filer School District bond request during the Tuesday election was building a second career-technical building at the high school. Voters, though, rejected the ballot measure.

This school year, about 160 students at Filer High School are taking agriculture classes, with offerings in areas such as introduction to agriculture, plant science and animal science.

The school’s existing career-technical building isn’t big enough for all of the projects students do — or could do — and there’s not enough storage space.

“Right now, the biggest problem is that we’re running out of space,” Wolf said.

Also, the second agriculture teacher has a single classroom in the main school building — not in the career-technical building. It means she frequently walks back and forth between the main building and greenhouse.

Another issue with the second agriculture teacher’s classroom is it’s not set up as a lab, which students need for agriculture science classes, Wolf said.

Kimberly High School

The Kimberly School District plans to convert a couple of acres of land into an animal science lab and animal housing facility for student projects.

In June 2017, the Kimberly School District signed a purchase and sales agreement to buy 2.4 acres of agricultural land. The district spent $165,000 on the land, which is just south of the middle and high school campuses.

As demographics are changing and Kimberly is growing, it gives students who live in suburban neighborhoods the opportunity to experience raising an animal, such as for a Twin Falls County Fair project, said Joseph Maxwell, an agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Kimberly High School.

The land will be used for students raising livestock, Maxwell said, and for hands-on lessons and activities like livestock evaluations.

He said he hopes to allow the first couple of students to use the land starting in May. Eventually, he hopes 15 to 20 students at a time will use the land for their animal projects.

Agriculture teachers are working on gathering funds and writing grants to get the land ready for students to use and to get water and electrical service. Maxwell said they’d also like to install security fencing around the area.

He said he’d like to see everything in place within a year.

The school district paid for some of the property to be cleaned up, Maxwell said, and for removing a barn that was deemed unsafe for students.

Kimberly School District has about 100 students in FFA and a total of about 600 — including both the middle and high schools — who take agriculture classes. The high school has three agriculture teachers.

Hagerman High School

Hagerman High School doubled its agriculture offerings this school year by adding a food science program. ARTEC Regional Professional Technical Charter School is sponsoring the program and Kirt Martin, chef at Snake River Grill, was hired as the teacher.

Now, the programs collectively are referred to as the Hagerman Academy of Agriculture & Food Science.

The food science program covers both the science and processing of food. It also educates students on a topic that will affect them if they work for a food processing company in the future: hazard analysis and critical control point.

That involves teaching students about “anything a processor would do to keep the food safe,” said Daniel Knapp, agriculture science/technology teacher and FFA adviser. That includes keeping their hands clean and monitoring the temperature of the product.

As part of academy classes, students also process a lot of products, Knapp said, including fish, dairy and wild game.

The “farm-to-fork” movement is popular right now and there’s a greater emphasis on wanting to know where food comes from and for eating local foods, Knapp said.

“Traditional agriculture instruction probably stops when the product goes to market,” he said.

But now, the food science component is included in Hagerman classes, and also includes business and marketing food products, how to create food labels and figure out the nutritional content of food such as fat and protein.

Food science is a huge industry in the Magic Valley, Knapp said, adding there’s a huge demand for skilled workers.

A lot of high-level positions in the industry — those that require a college degree — are being filled by people who move in from out of state, Knapp said.

“As an educator, that’s unacceptable,” he said.

Hansen High School

Hansen High School’s agriculture program plans to shift its focus of study next school year, offering classes tailored more toward animal science, agriculture teacher Kailee Davis said.

“This means that instead of being a cluster of a little bit of everything offered, we are going to be focused more on animals,” Davis wrote in an email to the Times-News. “We will still offer introduction classes to agriculture, plants and mechanics, but (we will go) more in depth with animal science.”

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