South Butler students gain respect for farming through Agriculture Club

| Sunday, April 13, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

As South Butler fourth- and fifth-graders colored pictures showing the life cycle of a chick growing inside an egg, the real thing peeped away inside a box nearby.

Each of them eventually got to hold one of the fluffy black-and-white or yellow chicks, brought in by local farmer Erik Schwalm of Jefferson Township. They also looked inside an egg backlit by a flashlight so they could see an undeveloped chick inside.

“I like how we have people demonstrate what we talk about during the lesson,” said fifth-grader Amanda Huckenstein, 11.

About 38 students are part of an after-school Agriculture Club at the South Butler Intermediate Elementary School in Jefferson Township.

Teachers Krisann Lambert and Lauren Burgard started the club this school year after attending an “agriculture in the classroom” conference at Penn State University.

They thought it was a good way to implement all that they learned there.

The club meets every other Thursday.

So far, the students have learned about soybeans and made soybean lip balm. Schwalm also has brought in goats and pigs. Later this month, they'll do gardening outside of the Primary Center and a beekeeper will visit. In May, the students will take a field trip to the Marburger Dairy Farm in Forward Township.

Dan Foster, an assistant professor of agriculture at Penn State University, said agriculture can be integrated into the classroom to give students a context in which to learn the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math.

“People don't realize that 20 percent of all careers are in some way related to agriculture. About 2 percent of jobs are in production agriculture, like farming,” said Foster, who specializes in teacher development training in agriculture education.

“Even if they're not in those careers,” he said, “we need informed citizens to be knowledgeable because they'll be the future people making decisions on our food supply and how to keep it safe and secure in America.”

Burgard said that even though South Butler is comprised of rural communities, many students haven't been exposed to farming.

“Some of the kids do live on farms, but a lot of the students aren't involved in agriculture at all,” she said. “It's a great way for them to learn what agriculture is and what all it involves and how, really, it touches almost every aspect of their lives.”

Fourth-grader Michael Costel, 9, said he really likes the club.

“I get to learn about farming and goats, chickens and cows,” he said. “It's very fun.”

Schwalm got involved in the club because he's a local farmer and his son, Walker, is a student at the Intermediate Elementary and participates in the club.

Schwalm is co-owner of Serenity Hill Farms in Indiana Township, and his family owns Goodness Grows Farm in Jefferson, where they raise goats and pigs. They use the farm primarily for 4-H Club activities.

“It's tons of fun,” Erik Schwalm said of the Ag Club. He said it helps pique kids' interest and they might get involved in 4-H or the high school's Future Farmers of America club.

Fifth-grader Sabrina Sute, 11, said she joined Ag Club in hopes it would add to what she's learning in 4-H.

“I wanted to share with others what I already knew and learning something new,” Sute said. She said she enjoyed learning about all the different breeds of goats last month.

Most recently, Schwalm talked to the kids about how long it takes chicken, duck and goose eggs to hatch — an average of 21, 28 and 30 days, respectively.

He showed them an electric incubator with a fan to constantly circulate air and an automatic turner to rotate the eggs like a hen would.

Christy Bartley, state program leader for the 4-H Youth Development Organization, said it's important for children to know where their food comes from.

“Children who are involved in agriculture classes, they know the importance of keeping their food safe, they know nutritional value and learn how to cook it and preserve it,” she said. “They learn about the products that are developed from agriculture like leather and fabric.”

Burgard said she and Lambert plan to continue the club next year. They're hopeful that some of the fourth-graders will return and more students will join now that word has spread that the club isn't just for farmers.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or

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