Local youth to get on-the-farm experience


ALAMOSA — Area youth will receive hands-on farming experience thanks to local soil and water districts in cooperation with the Sargent High School FFA.

The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) board unanimously voted on Tuesday to support the FFA project with $5,000.

Jason Benton, president of the Rio Grande Soil Conservation District, said the Rio Grande and Center Soil Conservation Districts are working with the Sargent FFA program to provide real world experience for students on farmland next to the conservation district office.

The project will incorporate 4.5-5 acres in the northwest corner of a field at Road 10 and Highway 285 next to the conservation district building, which also houses other tenants such as the Farm Service Agency.

The students in the agricultural program at Sargent High School will experience firsthand farming from the installation of the sprinkler system to planting, managing and harvesting a crop.

This will also provide income for the program to become self sufficient, Benton explained, and not dependent on school budget funding.

Benton and others are willing to work with the students on this project, he said, and Miller Coors is willing to give the Sargent FFA a small allotment to raise barley for Coors. Clint Mondragon, the FFA sponsor at Sargent, already has a group of youth who are eager to participate, Benton added.

Sargent has a strong FFA program with 30-40 youth, Benton said.

Students will be involved in all of the processes including budgeting, water and soil management and planting/harvesting. They will receive hands-on experience from laying the sprinkler pipe to harvesting the crop.

“We want the kids involved as much as possible,” Benton said. “We want the kids out there doing it.”

The total project cost is about $30,000, and the Rio Grande and Center Soil Conservation Districts are putting money towards the project and sought support from the water district, which was very supportive. Benton said this was a one-time request from the district.

“We are hoping they can pretty much become self sufficient,” he said.

Bookkeeping and farm budgets are part of the agricultural curriculum at Sargent, so this project will give students hands-on experience in that arena as well.

He added that the project is beginning with the Sargent FFA, but the soil districts hope to work with other FFA’s in the Valley in the future as well.

Benton said this is an opportunity for the soil conservation districts to “practice things we preach” with the youth. They will be able to learn what soil and water conservation methods are practical and economical, for example.

He said one of the goals of this project is to encourage youth to become involved in farming as a career, and many of Mondragon’s students are excited about this.

“I love the idea,” said RGWCD board member Peggy Godfrey who made the motion to provide $5,000 funding towards the project. She said this will provide the youth with excellent training on the ground.

Sargent High School graduate and RGWCD board member Lewis Entz agreed. He said this would be a good educational project not just for youth familiar with farming but for other students as well.

“This is a good project,” added RGWCD board member Bill McClure. He asked if this might be a project that could be incorporated into the CSU farm. Benton said that is a research farm, and this is more of an educational farm project. He added that this project fits in with stipulations from the Trinchera Foundation that provided financial assistance to the soil conservation districts with the directive that they continue educational efforts in promoting soil and water health.

RGWCD board member Cory Off, who abstained from voting because he serves on the soil conservation district, said the conservation district’s focus on soil health and sustainability ties right in with water management as well.

He added, “We will put this under our farm unit and cover the water that’s going to be pumped on it.”

Benton said this quarter has three wells as well as shares on the Rio Grande and Santa Maria.

Off added that while other soil conservation districts in the state are funded through mill levies, the Center and Rio Grande districts are not, and what they have been able to do with limited funding sources has been amazing. They have definitely had to think “outside the box,” he said.

RGWCD General Manager Cleave Simpson said the district has funds in its special projects budget for this type of project. He suggested that to be equitable the district could assist other FFA programs with similar projects in the future.