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FARM SCENE: Farm Education No Longer Just Cows And Corn

December 3, 1996

HUDSON, N.H. (AP) _ In 1963, Wilber Palmer was hired to close one of New Hampshire’s oldest agricultural education programs because school officials thought the money could be better spent.

Alvirne High School’s 35 agricultural education students tended a handful of dairy cows and a few acres of feed corn on 214 acres off Route 102.

But Palmer had other ideas. Coming from a long line of farmers who had worked the same land in Derry for more than 200 years, Palmer was determined to pass farming skills and values on to at least one more generation of students.

``That job of closing up erupted into a program that now serves more than 300 students,″ Palmer said. ``We’ve thrived by expanding the scope of the program to match the changing face of agriculture in the region.″

Educators say the evolution of agricultural education in New Hampshire has followed the fortunes of the family farm. As the number of farms _ and the traditional agricultural jobs they provided _ have declined, schools have added courses such as horticulture, building trades, banking, business technology, health occupations and culinary arts.

``It’s a matter of economics,″ said Richard Barker, state education consultant to New Hampshire’s 17 high school regional agricultural education programs. ``We’ve had to tailor courses to agriculture-related occupations available in today’s job market.″

The changes have helped prepare students for higher education. Sixty-two percent of the more than 2,000 students in agriculture education courses last year went on to college, he said.

The program at Winnisquam Regional High School is in its fifth year. Roughly 75 students attend classes that focus on technology and service agriculture.

``As education dollars become tight, people are expecting us to spend that money in ways that ultimately gets kids ready to enter the work force,″ said Janet Rosequist, program director.

Instead of producing a product, much of the agriculture in New England is focused on providing a service, she said. Winnisquam has courses in landscaping, natural resources and environmental education, horticulture and equipment maintenance and repair.

In addition to the subjects, teachers teach skills and try to instil a strong work ethic, she said.

``We’re really teaching skills that prepare any high school student for whatever career they would want to go into,″ Rosequist said.

The program at Alvirne uses land donated to the town in 1928 by Alfred Mills, a New York doctor, who also contributed a half-million dollars to start the state’s first industrial school for agriculture, economics and trade.

Alvirne also offers courses in forestry, marketing, animal science, heavy-equipment technology and building trades.

``We’re showing kids the big picture,″ Palmer said. ``When they leave here, they have a good idea what’s available to them out there and hopefully the knowledge and good work habits to make them successful.″

In addition to the big picture, there is still the original picture _ maintaining a working farm with cornfields, 35 head of cattle, 20 sheep and a pig.

``Even though most of them won’t go into farming as a profession, I’ve always felt it was important to teach them the values of the New England farmer,″ Palmer said.

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