While Oscar Munoz may live amidst the hustle bustle of the country’s third largest city, his heart is on the farm. That helps explain why he’s willing to commute an hour and a half each way via public transit, just to attend the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.
“I just think this is one of the best schools in Chicago, and even the nation,” the 17-year-old said. “There’s not another school like it, and it gives me a lot of opportunity to learn about agriculture.” Like boarding a bus with 20 classmates at 6 a.m. and leaving the city behind for a day.
Munoz was one of 45 high school students who participated in a unique event this spring to introduce young people to careers in agriculture. The diverse group represented FFA chapters from the Chicago agricultural school and North Scott High School in Eldridge, Iowa, as well as Mid-City High School in Davenport, Iowa, an alternative school whose students have created urban gardens on their campus.
Up close and personal
On a cool and overcast morning, the students gathered at Cinnamon Ridge Farms in Donahue, Iowa, to get an up-close look at the daily operations of a working dairy, beef, and hog farm, as well as the varied job opportunities at both John Deere and in the ag industry.
Munoz was looking forward to learning more about the ag business, even though he spends his weekends on his father’s farm, where he raises chickens. “I want to see the business side of the dairy industry and understand the benefits and disadvantages of having a dairy farm,” he said.
John Deere organizers Jessica Holmes, supervisor, guest services, and Amy Allen, manager, corporate contributions, corporate citizenship, each explained how the event brought different benefits to each group. “Most of the Chicago students had never been to a working farm, so this was an opportunity for them to see what actually goes on,” said Allen. “Having students from different backgrounds added to their overall experience, as they were able to interact and share stories,” said Holmes.
Cinnamon Ridge owners John and Joan Maxwell led tours of the 1,100-acre farm, including a hog-feeding facility, and a dairy barn where robots milk 220 cows, 3 to 4 times a day. Even the rural-based North Scott FFA members were impressed when John explained each cow produces between 8 and 9 gallons of milk a day. “I’m a beef cattle kind of girl, so it was interesting to learn more about dairy,” said Jesse Kreiter. “I didn’t realize there was that much that went into it.”
Many career paths to follow
In between farm tours, students participated in career conversations with a John Deere recruiter, a dealer, and United Auto Workers (UAW) production employees. Themes ranged from tips for getting a summer college internship to the increasing role of technology on the job. “Technology continues to grow and we have to grow with that technology as workers,” stressed Ryan Dotson, UAW Local 865 committeeman, and a production employee at Harvester Works.
Assembler Dion Jones even reminded students of the dangers of Facebook, saying “Whatever you put on Facebook, everyone in the world sees. When you get hired on at John Deere, you represent John Deere, even away from John Deere.”
Later, the students were able to try their hand at flying a drone, and saw demonstrations on GPS and precision-ag technology. One of the most popular activities was a ride-along on various John Deere pieces of equipment, ranging from Gators to 8R Series Tractors.
JaMonica Marion, a teacher from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences was excited for the opportunity to travel to an Iowa farm when Allen first contacted her. “We use Deere products in our school, so I thought, ‘Why not get the kids out here to actually see who works for John Deere and make those rural connections between what we’re learning in the classroom and the people who make it possible?’”
Marion added that her animal sciences students immediately connected with the hog barn. “We just sold 5 pigs last week and being able to compare our small house with the Cinnamon Ridge facility was eye-opening for our students,” she said. “They have 2,400 baby pigs versus our 5, yet even on a larger scale, the pigs still need vitamins and nutrients. Where we have a vet come in to assist, they have machines that push the nutrients through the water system.”
Excited about agriculture
At the end of the day, there was no question the first-of-its-kind activity was a hit. “The day was a huge success,” exclaimed Holmes. “None of the students wanted to leave. I think we were able to get them excited about this industry and help them see themselves as being a part of it some day.” Plans are underway to host a second event next May.
As for Oscar Munoz, his future career may have been only slightly adjusted after his visit to Cinnamon Ridge Farms. “A farmer told me you have to be diverse, and not have your eggs in one basket, so if I have the capital to open a dairy farm and also have my chicken business, I’ll do both.”
A day at Cinnamon Ridge Farms
Read more about these FFA members that visited the farm.