School for Agricultural and Environmental Studies visit ag facilities

Gloria Hafemeister
The best learning comes from hands-on experience.  First, second and third grade students at SAGES charter school at Fox Lake had an opportunity to plant seeds and learn about various methods of establishing and caring for plants when they toured Hoekstra Market and Greenhouse near Fox Lake on National Ag Day.  Here employee Rachel Hoffman lets students try their hand at operating the automated seeding machine.

FOX LAKE - Students in the School for Agricultural and Environmental Studies (SAGES) learned that agriculture is more than just livestock and crops. They got a taste for the wide variety of job opportunities that agriculture provides when they visited area agricultural enterprises on National Agriculture Day, March 20.

Since opening six years ago SAGES students have celebrated Agriculture Day by inviting area farmers to come to the school. This year they tried something new and went out to a variety of ag-related facilities to learn.  

"This gives our students a chance to see something visual and to interact with those professionals,” agriculture educator Sheri Hicken said. “We do team up with our community partners and this is just another example of how that partnership happens. There are many other examples as well, but we could only fit so much in one day.”

Hicken enlisted a team of fifth- and sixth-graders to help organize the day.

“It did take a lot of phone calls to organize where we wanted to go,” Hicken said. “There was lots of mapping to determine how far we could go and exactly what we would have time to see in our day. It was definitely a puzzle, but it was also good to share that with the students as a learning experience.”

Students toured facilities including the Nelson & Pade Aquaponics & Greenhouse near Montello, the Marquette County Barn Quilt Trail near Montello, the Rhodes Bake & Serve plant in Columbus, the Sassy Cow Creamery near Columbus, Alsum Farms & Produce near Friesland and Hoekstra’s Market & Greenhouse near Fox Lake.

Jewel Mucklin, SAGES principal, says  “A lot of times people will think of the production side of the agriculture industry, and farming is certainly very important, but we want our students to understand the vast opportunities to be involved in agriculture, all the way from the farm to the consumer. This year we have the chance to take them out and see firsthand how great and important those opportunities are.”

Older students toured all day and younger students stayed closer to home, spending half of the day at the school.

Younger students had the opportunity to visit the school cow, Nellie of D & T Dairy, escorted by Ron Daane.

They also heard from Dave Laatsch who  visited the school for late-morning and afternoon presentations.

Laatsch, a.k.a., the “Chicken Man,” is a retired high school agriculture instructor, UW-Extension agent, and lifelong Poultry Farmer. Since SAGES began,  Laatsch has shared his agricultural knowledge and enthusiasm for chickens in numerous ways.

In 2014, he mentored our student “chicken team” helping plan and build SAGES’ chicken coop and generously loans chickens from his flock each fall/spring allowing learners to experience animal science and responsibility first-hand. He’s also provided eggs to incubate and served as a presenter at several SAGES’ learning events.

One reason for the off-campus tours this agriculture day is that the school is currently being remodeled. 

During the week following Agriculture Day the students enjoyed spring break. That provided the opportunity for the transition process and the opening of the new south wing that has been under construction at SAGES all year in order to build the media center addition and renovate classrooms.