Farmers strike deal to work South Butler School District land

| Saturday, June 7, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A new farming operation on South Butler School District property is intended to be an educational opportunity for students, officials say.

Local farmers Bruce Thoma and Sam Reimer are planting corn and soybeans on 20 acres across Knoch Road from the district's administration building.

In exchange for the use of the land, they will give a $1,000 scholarship to the Knoch High School Future Farmers of America and/or the Knoch Conservation Club.

District officials anticipate that next year's science, technology and the environment class will be able to conduct soil testing on the land, and the South Butler Intermediate Elementary School Agriculture Club is likely to participate in crop harvest this fall.

“One of the reasons that we wanted to open it up (for proposals) is because there is a strong history of farming in the school district community and we thought that a creative partnership could foster that history,” said school district spokesman Jason Davidek.

He said that when the district moved forward with a request for proposals, the board didn't have a preconceived notion of what one might look like in terms of compensation or partnership with the district.

“The proposal that these gentlemen submitted with a scholarship, that was something that the district looked upon favorably,” he said.

Thoma and Reimer were the only ones to submit a proposal.

Neither returned calls seeking comment.

A food ministry from Jefferson Center Presbyterian Church in Jefferson used the land for the past 12 years to grow crops and raise money for Foods Resource Bank, an international nonprofit that helps people in developing countries grow their own food.

The group has severed ties with the nonprofit and downsized, said Dave McConahy, an elder at Jefferson Center Presbyterian and treasurer for the food ministry.

He said the group farmed the Knoch Road land before the school district bought it, then contracted with the school board to continue.

“I thought it was very generous of them,” said McConahy, of Jefferson.

Reimer has been a farmer in the area for many years and volunteered with the ministry, according to a letter Thoma wrote in response to the district's request for proposals.

Thoma said he has been farming locally for 19 years, raising livestock and harvesting grain.

“It is very important to me that Saxonburg remains a community driven economy,” Thoma wrote. “I feel it is important to continue the traditions of farming and community participation in Saxonburg.”

Davidek said part of the science, technology and the environment class, a new high school course in 2014-15, likely will include Thoma and Reimer talking with students about agricultural careers with a science component.

Lauren Burgard, a fifth-grade teacher who helped start the after-school Ag Club, said students are looking forward to partnering with the farmers in the fall to learn more about crops, cultivation and harvest.

This year, the Ag Club worked with local farmers to bring animals like goats and chicks to the school for educational lessons.

“We were hoping to have the kids come out so they can see what happens during a harvest, what kind of equipment is used and signs to watch for,” Burgard said.

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

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