OCSD approves new agriculture classes

The Fulton farmers market, pictured above last summer, showcases the end product of years of work and know-how. The Oswego City School District is introducing two new classes to accommodate growing interest in agriculture careers.

OSWEGO — The Oswego City School District will add two agriculture classes to the Oswego High School curriculum, citing a growing interest for careers in the field.

Adding the two courses — “Join the Race to Sustain the Place!” and “Structures of Agriculture” — is part of an effort to regain a Future Farmers of America (FFA) program, officials said after approving the classes at a recent Board of Education meeting. Schools must offer three agriculture-related courses in order to qualify for an FFA charter.

Oswego City School District (OCSD) Board of Education President Heather DelConte said at a recent board meeting the courses would commence in September 2020 and involve the emerging field of agriculture technology. The third class “Living Environments,” is already a required science course at Oswego High School (OHS). The curriculum for that class will be rewritten to include an agriculture component.

OCSD Superintendent Dean Goewey said the growing enthusiasm for an agriculture program began in the form of an independent, student-run ag club formed in 2019.

“They attended some regional events, and they’ve done a lot of things that are exciting around agriculture. They hatched their own chicks and they were on a live feed, and that generated a lot of excitement across the student body,” Goewey said. “That’s all building up interest and momentum to give us time to build up the curriculum. We’re ready to hit the ground running in September.”

The agriculture club has plans for the spring to work on an OHS chicken coop, and hope to expand into horticulture and potentially work with the district’s buildings and grounds crews. In the fall, the group plans to work with the school’s food services, according to Goewey and DelConte, to see if a partnership can be formed to provide homegrown food options to students.

OHS’s FFA chapter would be the only one in Oswego County, though officials said both Mexico High School and CiTi BOCES have robust agriculture interests. OHS at one point had a thriving FFA program, but decades have passed since it was last active, officials said.

“This is actually really big because one of the focuses for economic development in our county is agriculture,” said DelConte, who owns and operates Black Creek Farms in Volney with her husband, Supreme Court Judge Scott DelConte. “Every time we’re sitting around the table brainstorming how we can promote agriculture, it always comes back to education and then you look left and right and you realize there’s no (agriculture education) in the county at all. It doesn’t make a lot of sense given that we are, more or less, a rural county.”

Steve Ammerman of the New York Farm Bureau said the enthusiasm for adding agriculture education in Oswego shows the school district is prioritizing an important and significant part of the community — and economy.

“People think if you’re in agriculture that you work on a farm, but there’s so many jobs on farms now that are very technical,” Ammerman said. Among the new, technology-based farm jobs are marketing and communications positions, nutrient management and technology jobs in GPS and robotics

If the number of agriculture courses at Oswego High School becomes large enough to sustain, the school district is open to looking into a certified agriculture educator, which Goewey said is difficult to find in New York given that agriculture education has become so popular recently, there is a shortage of certified agriculture teachers.

The board also voted to accept the retirement of several staff members, including superintendent Dean Goewey, along with the resignations of John Finch as varsity football coach and Catherine Celeste as girls varsity track and field coach.

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