[Source: INEDA, 07.17 | Keywords: Ag Education, FFA]
When Matthew Eddy first started teaching 19 years ago, he never thought it would become a career. “I always say I showed up teaching agriculture by chance but have stayed by choice,” said Eddy, Southeast Polk High School’s ag instructor and FFA advisor. “I discovered that I really enjoyed teaching because it not only allowed me to learn new things, but to help others learn new things as well. I guess the saying ‘When you do what you love, time flies by,’ is true!”
Students from rural, suburban and urban backgrounds take Eddy’s classes in animal science, plant science, biotechnology, greenhouse operations and more, including an advanced animal science lab taught in late July. “I think every kid should take an ag class at some point in his or her education, especially with the public’s interest in knowing where their food comes from,” stressed Eddy, who said he can count the number of his students living on a farm on one hand. “I really enjoy watching my students grow from their freshman year to their senior year and beyond.”
Eddy is a firm believer in providing his students with hands-on experience whenever possible. When he discovered that 75% of his students wanted to work in an animal science career field (many as veterinarians) but none of them had experience handling animals, he jumped at an opportunity presented by the Iowa State Fair.
Every August, his students can be found working at the Iowa State Fair in the Knapp Animal Learning Center, a state-of-the-art, agriculture-based education facility. Under the supervision of Eddy and a veterinarian, these students work with hogs, goats, sheep and other livestock before, during and after the birthing process. In addition, they manage the Iowa State Fair’s 23-head cow herd throughout the year, gaining valuable hands-on experience.
Most of the classes taught by Eddy are part of the Curriculum for Ag Science Education (CASE) from the National Council for Agricultural Education. This program was designed by American ag instructors in 2009 to teach STEM concepts, including plant biology, animal science and biotechnology, while incorporating science, mathematics and English language skills. Southeast Polk was one of three Iowa schools to participate in the inaugural CASE Animal Science Curriculum pilot.
Today, the program has grown to 1,369 teachers from 41 states, plus the Virgin Islands. “I would like to see more Iowa schools adopt this programming,” said Eddy, a CASE Master Teacher and Mentor.
“CASE makes sure kids have the right tools in the toolbox to become effective problem solvers.”
This includes going beyond PowerPoint presentations, lectures and textbook lessons. For instance, Eddy’s aquaculture program with barramundi fish gives students hands-on experience with food production. The program has been so successful that he is currently working to sell the small 10 x 10 system and expand to a new, larger system with all of the bells and whistles. “Our goal is to eventually have the capacity to produce greens and fish for our school’s lunch program.”
He may be on to something. “Experts predict 9 billion people will need to be fed by 2050. How will we raise enough protein to meet the needs of this human population? How are we going to globally compete to raise more protein and do so with less land and water?” asked Eddy, who explained that while a pound of fish can be raised on just three gallons of water, it takes nearly 1,800 gallons of water to raise a pound of beef. “Aquaponics is a natural solution because you can raise a good, high quality product this way using less land and water. I see aquaponics becoming our next big growth industry in ag.”
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Eddy also serves as the school’s FFA advisor. The Southeast Polk FFA program currently boasts 175 members – one of the largest in the state of Iowa. The group is a 100% membership chapter, which means that any Southeast Polk student wanting to participate can join. “This gives every Southeast Polk student the opportunity to get involved,” said Eddy. “It’s so rewarding to help kids from all walks of life discover just how cool agriculture can be.”
The group works on several community projects throughout the year, in addition to FFA sanctioned activities and events. In May, the students created flower baskets to hang in nearby Altoona’s old downtown using plants grown in the school’s greenhouse. “This experience was good for my students, the city and the community,” said Eddy with pride.
Eddy also maintains a strong presence in the ag business community and is always on the lookout for opportunities for his students. “Whenever I speak with ag business owners I ask them what they’re looking for in a new employee so I can share this with my students,” said Eddy. “The things I hear most are that they want them to be inquisitive, work well within a group of people, be a leader and have the drive to do a job well. I feel FFA does an excellent job helping students develop skills like these which really can’t be taught, but must be experienced instead.”
He added, “As educators, we work to get our students to a point where they will go out and be a contributing member of society. I feel a strong ag education, in conjunction with the skills learned through FFA, help get students excited and makes them realize they can do anything.”
Equipment dealerships can play a role in this process. “When I ask kids the first day they take one of my classes what they think of when I say agriculture, they always say, farming,” reflected Eddy. “Southeast Polk is a big school. A lot of our students will have a career in agriculture somewhere and they don’t even know it. My challenge is how to get that connection made so they can come and see what modern agriculture is all about.”
Eddy feels there are several ways equipment dealers can help make these connections. “Get involved with ag education, your local school district and FFA chapters,” said Eddy. “Reach out to these local programs and ask them what you can do to help.” He also suggests that dealers:
Visit a Classroom
Speak to ag education classrooms or FFA chapters about the equipment industry and share what career opportunities are available at your dealership. Bring out a piece of equipment for them to see and touch. Share what scholarship or tuition assistance programs your dealership offers. Talk about seasonal
Offer Job Shadowing
Invite your local FFA advisor and/or ag teacher to spend a day at your dealership in the summer to job shadow in each department and learn what careers are available at an equipment dealership. “Any time I can go out into the industry and bring that experience back to students is awesome,” exclaimed Eddy.
“Equipment today has become so technologically advanced,” said Eddy. “Most people don’t realize this and still think of the 1970s tractor as a reference model.” Last year, a dealership loaned Eddy a new tractor to use for the Homecoming parade. He turned this opportunity into a teaching moment. “I brought all of my classes out for a chance to sit in the tractor so they could see all of the computers and technology on the tractor. This helped me demonstrate how far ag technology has come and show potential careers in agriculture that they didn’t even know existed.”
Partner with a School
Eddy is currently working on a curriculum project with John Deere to help more kids understand what technology is being used on farm equipment today and to help open pathways and pipelines to potential career opportunities for his students. As a result of this connection, one of Eddy’s students is currently working on an internship at a local John Deere dealership.
Make financial contributions or donate/loan equipment to help support ag education programs, such as the Curriculum for Ag Science Education (CASE) program.
Speak Out for Ag Education
Engage with your local school district and decision makers and stress the importance of agriculture and ag education. “Unfortunately as budgets are evaluated, ag education is not always at the top of the list,” said Eddy, who has secured several grants to help expand the ag education program at Southeast Polk High School. “It’s a challenging environment. I have been fortunate to secure what I need to make it happen.”
He feels that ag is in a great spot today. “People seem very interested in agriculture. Consumers want to know things like how food is raised, transported and so forth, which gives all of us a unique opportunity to showcase what ag is all about.”
Eddy concluded, “I’ve always told my students if you have an interest, agriculture has an opportunity for you, whether it’s veterinary medicine, information technology, accounting or another option. There’s a tremendous amount of exciting career opportunities in ag today. We all need to keep encouraging our best and brightest young minds to work in agriculture and build their careers here in the Midwest.”
MEET Matthew Eddy
- Ag Instructor and FFA Advisor [Southeast Polk High School]
- Curriculum for Ag Science Education (CASE) Mentor
- 2013 Outstanding Teacher Award [National Association of Agricultural Educators]
- 2013 Outstanding Agriculture Education Teacher [Iowa Association of Agricultural Educators]
- 2014 Outstanding Young Alumni Award [Iowa State University]