The OSU Center for Cooperatives team hosted 34 FFA students from Peebles High School and Ohio Valley Career Technical Center on Friday, March 31, 2023, for the Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience Day held at OSU South Centers. The Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience is an educational program that provides high school students in the Appalachian region an opportunity to learn about the cooperative business model and careers in agricultural, while developing leadership skills.
The event kicked off with a welcome from OSU South Centers Director, Dr. Tom Worley, who provided students with details about the uniqueness of South Centers and the opportunities it brings to the southern Ohio region, as well as numerous jobs. Dr. Worley described the many career paths available at the Center, from agricultural, research, and business development just to name a few.
Students began the day with a wagon tour of the farm, where they were able to view strawberries growing in the high tunnel, see how hops are grown, and hear how research is conducted with small fruits. They were then given a tour and in-depth look at the hatchery, where they were able to learn about how to raise and care for various types of fish and view the Center’s famous sturgeon.
Students then had the opportunity to experience hands-on lab demonstrations of soil testing, with Dr. Rafiq Islam and Dr. Arif Rahman, part of South Centers Soil, Water and Bioenergy Resources team. They were shown how to field test the soil to estimate quality, active carbons, and nitrogen fertilization, as well as recognizing what the coloration of the soil means. All students were provided soil test kits they could take home to do their own soil testing.
Small fruits are also a key point of research at South Centers and Dr. Gary Gao and Dr. Dan Remley demonstrated many ways strawberries and oranges provide key sources of information. Students were taught how to measure natural and artificial sugar levels using fresh oranges and orange juice, as well as how to extract DNA from strawberries. Caydence from Peebles said, “The Strawberry DNA and the color machine activity was very interesting to me, in our group we looked at the color of the strawberry compared to the sugar content of each; the darker the strawberry the higher the sugar content, which makes sense that there is more sugar as the strawberry ripens.”
Microgreens was another fun lab activity students enjoyed, and was taught by Research Assistant, Ryan Slaughter. Microgreens are becoming a very popular, healthy, easy, and enjoyable way to grow delicious greens from virtually anywhere in a very small area or limited amount of space. The greens can be grown in small plastic containers, similar to restaurant takeout containers, and placed in a window. Students were provided, potting soil mix, the opportunity to select from lettuce or kale seeds and were then able to plant their seeds with information about providing care and the growth of their microgreens.
A very popular point of interest for the day was visiting the aquaponics lab. Research Associate, Thom Harker, gave students a first-hand account of what running an aquaponics system looks like, and provided detailed information about care of the fish and their importance in the growth process for the crops. Both students and teachers were very interested in receiving information on how they can develop their own aquaponics systems at their schools.
During lunch, students had the opportunity to hear from several cooperative business leaders as they provided details about their cooperative, job opportunities available and the education and/or skills set needed to perform those jobs. Companies represented were South Central Power, Farm Credit Mid-America, Atomic Credit Union, Adams Rural Electric Cooperative, and Dairy Farmers of America. Following lunch, students were able to engage one-on-one with each of the business leaders while visiting their tables during the Co-op Career Fair. Company representatives not only offered students information and potential job opportunities, but offered help with resume building and even offered a mock interview to one lucky student.
Students also had the opportunity to speak to a representative from Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute from Wooster, OH, who painted a picture of ag campus life for students possibly interested in pursuing a degree in agricultural sciences. There are a number of programs available across all animal species in ag business, marketing, engineering and many others.
Peebles High School ag teacher, Becky Minton, had this to say about the day, “the YCLE event was wonderful!! My students not only had the opportunity to tour the research facilities and hear about the research that is currently happening at OSU South Centers but received a hands-on learning opportunity as well. Students participated in Strawberry DNA extraction, color & sugar testing of fruits, understanding soil testing, aquaponics and the importance of proper water quality testing for both fish and plants, and growing their own fodder/microgreens system. Students were able to discuss the importance of Co-ops with industry representatives but also engage in one-on-one conversations with them; my students were able to see local opportunities for job placement in the area of cooperatives. The lunch that was provided was a great addition to the day! I could not have asked for a better day with my students to learn and have fun at the same time; it was truly an enjoyable experience for me as a teacher and for them as students.”