East Grand Forks students engage in ag in their hometown
About 140 students on May 1, 2023, went on an agricultural tour of businesses, a college and a farm.
EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — East Grand Forks Senior High freshmen students didn’t have to leave their backyard to explore the myriad career opportunities in agriculture.
About 140 students on May 1, 2023, toured the East Grand Forks agricultural businesses of A&L Potato Co. and American Crystal Sugar Co., got hands-on animal science and horticulture experiences at Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks and learned about production agriculture at Thompson Brothers Farms, a few miles outside of the city.
The tour was the inaugural Farm Camp event called Ag Day organized by Stephanie Larson, East Grand Forks Senior High Wave Career Academy coordinator, and Wanda Patsche, Farm Camp program director.
The aim of Farm Camp Minnesota, a non-profit organization, is to enhance students' agricultural knowledge by connecting them with members of the agricultural industry on a farm or an agricultural site.
The Wave Career Academy has taken East Grand Forks Senior High students on similar tours of other facilities, such as health care, where there are job opportunities for them.
“I think we’re finding if we get kids into the environment, it changes their perspective of what it is,” Larson said. “By the time they leave, they have a much better idea.”
For example, though students may have been aware before the May 1 tour that potatoes are grown near East Grand Forks, they may not know that there are processing plants in the city that prepare and sell them to grocery store shelves across the United States
Students on the Ag Day Farm Camp tour learned from Frankie Vargas, A&L production manager and Jenni Bruer, A&L sales and marketing manager, how the company grows, stores and processes potatoes. Students viewed the bin where the unwashed potatoes are kept, then watched them being sorted and washed, and finally, moved down the production line in a variety of sizes of plastic and paper bags.
Vargas told the students that raising and handling red and yellow potatoes, which are fresh products that consumers want to buy unblemished, is done differently than some of the other commodities, such as grains and sugarbeets.
“We have to treat a potato like an egg,” Vargas said. Maintaining a steady storage temperature for the potatoes, no matter the outside temperature, also is critical to running a processing plant.
Besides Vargas' and Bruers' jobs, A&L Potato Co. employs an agronomist, truckers and production workers.
“Even if they don’t work in these jobs, they’ll appreciate these jobs,” Larson said. That appreciation, in turn, has potential to pique their interest so the students choose an agricultural career path after they graduate from high school.
"The whole thing is exposure, exposure, exposure," she said.
American Crystal Sugar Co., the next stop on the Ag Day tour, employs dozens of workers for skilled jobs such as accountants, engineers and chemists and for trade positions that include mechanics, welders and processing technicians, students learned during a presentation by Ryan Wall, East Grand Forks factory manager.
After the presentation, students donned hair nets, hard hats, protective glasses and ear protection and took a guided tour of the factory where they saw how the beets are sliced and processed.
Though, he has relatives who farm, Ryan Bondy, a student on the tour, gleaned new information, he said.
"I think it's unique and awesome to see how things work. I never actually saw how they turn sugarbeets into sugar," Bondy said.
The next stop on the tour was Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks, where some of its students and staff, together with staff from University of Minnesota Crookston, talked to the students about their agricultural-related programs.
The ninth graders took turns delivering a calf from the NCTC’s demonstration model cow, gave CPR to a demonstration model dog and practiced vaccinations on a demonstration model.
The final tour stop was at Thompson Brothers Farms, which grows wheat, soybeans and sugarbeets a few miles north of East Grand Forks. There students learned about crop production and the kind of machinery used to raise and harvest crops.
Besides learning about the production and processing side of the agricultural industry, the Ag Day Farm Camp was designed to also give students a sample of the many careers available in their own agricultural community.
"That's kind of the whole take from today; how everything in our area comes back to agriculture," Larson said.