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Educating young people about agriculture is goal of UWRF student

Falcon News Service

November 18, 2015

During the recent 2015 National FFA Convention and Expo, four UW-River Falls students won awards for their hard work. Among them was agricultural education freshman Ashley Zimmerman, who earned the 2015 National Agricultural Proficiency Award for two programs in her hometown.

The event, organized by the National FFA Organization, took place Oct. 28-31 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Zimmerman had won the Wisconsin state agricultural proficiency award in agricultural education, and was selected as one of the four finalists to appear at the National FFA. After being interviewed by a panel of judges, who chose Zimmerman to receive the national award.

Zimmerman said she is proud of her latest award.

“It was pretty exciting when I heard my name called, because my brother, actually, he won the proficiency three years ago, and his was in agricultural communication,” she said. “I set a goal for myself that I wanted to be on that stage someday, and I wanted to win a proficiency like he did. So it was a goal that I accomplished that I set a few years before.”

The award was for one program Zimmerman created and another that she helped change. The programs are being used in the elementary and high school in Spencer, Wisconsin, where she grew up.

The first program Zimmerman created is an agriculture science camp for elementary pupils. The camp program is open during the summer, and is where students learn about animal, plant and food science. The kids learn about the animals, they make beef jerky and cheese. The camp has been open for three years, and Zimmerman said she would like to continue helping every summer.

The second program that Zimmerman was a part of is an agriculture literacy program in her high school. When the original program managers graduated, Zimmerman took charge. She created three new programs that taught about beef, biotechnology and careers in agriculture.

Zimmerman said she created the programs because she believes that “it’s important to educate young people about agriculture because that’s whose going to be our future, is the young people. If we teach them young they get excited, and they want to get involved and teach other students, too.”

In June, the recent Spencer High School graduate was named the Wisconsin FFA Star Farmer.

When graduation from UWRF comes in four years, Zimmerman said she would like to be an agriculture teacher.

At the moment there are more agriculture teaching jobs then there are teachers, said Professor James Graham of the Agricultural Education Department.

“We’ve had a shortage for qualified ag teachers to fill current openings over the last three to four years in this state and the same over in Minnesota,” he said. In fact, a lot of schools in both Wisconsin and Minnesota are looking to either start agricultural education or add a second teacher to an already existing program.

The low amount of college students studying agricultural education is due to the recession several years ago and the belief that there is a lack of jobs in education, Graham said. That is not the case since more elementary, junior high and high schools are looking for agriculture teachers.