By JOHN O'CONNELL
MORELAND, Idaho -- J.B. Hoge worked 17 years raising potatoes on a large farm in Fort Hall, Idaho. This summer, however, he'll be cultivating the next generation of farmers and agronomists, teaching a unique, new elective science class at Snake River High School.
The first-year teacher made a career change after taking winter courses at Idaho State University. His course load includes the standard agricultural classes at Snake River, including welding, small engine repair, fabrication and greenhouse horticulture.
After discussions with the school's FFA president, junior Dexton Lake, and district Superintendent Mark Gabrylczyk, he's also launching a novel summer class teaching students hands-on lessons in farming.
The class has been made possible by the local farming community -- Blackfoot, Idaho, farmer Garth Vanorden donated spud seed and aided with planting, General Mills provided barley seed and Western Farm Service is donating chemicals and the time of agronomist Leon Anderson.
The field is owned by the district and hadn't been farmed in a couple of decades. Though the class starts officially on June 10, barley has already begun poking through the soil on four acres. Another acre has been seeded in spuds. Students will assist with tasks including chemical application, moving hand lines, calculating irrigation rates, sampling petioles and determining yields. They'll sometimes meet in area commercial fields, where Anderson will lecture about crop diseases and other agronomic issues.
They'll support the class by selling bags of their spuds at the local farmers' market, along with produce from the school's greenhouse.
About half of the students in the first class come from family farms, and interest has far exceeded the superintendent's expectations.
"This class has 30 kids in it. Where do we get 30 kids taking a summer school class?" Gabrylczyk said.
Gabrylczyk said the Snake River farm will partner in agricultural research. For example, the feed barley, called Xenia, is a field variety General Mills wanted to test in east Idaho growing conditions -- the students' crop will be returned to the company. They planted Modoc red spuds, a variety that Vanorden wanted to test in virgin soil. They've also planted spuds in traditional beds and five-row beds to compare yields.
Hoge is using curriculum based on a University of Idaho class and hopes to get it approved for college dual-enrollment credit by next summer.
Lake, whose family owns a pair of cattle feed lots with a combined 10,000 head, played a central role in establishing the class and helped make the initial presentation to the school board in December.
Lake, who plans to study agronomy at Utah State University, believes the class will appeal to many students who struggle to stay interested in traditional courses.
"The one thing I wanted to stress was making it a science credit," Lake said. "I think one of the most misinterpreted things about agriculture is that it is a science."
Class member Hazer Simper, a sophomore who moves pipe on a neighbor's farm and also plans a career in agriculture, said the class will "get us ready if we're going into (agriculture), which I think a lot of kids in this area are going to do."