Agricultural science instructor and FFA advisor Kurt Veldhuizen is starting his ninth year at Webster City High School, where his goals are to continually try new things, let students have ownership in their projects and make learning fun.
“I’m not a teacher; I’m an ‘agriculture facilitator,’ ” he says with a smile.
Veldhuizen’s classes teach students about the production, processing, marketing, distribution, financing and development of agricultural commodities and resources, including food, fiber, wood products, natural resources, horticulture and other plant and animal products and resources. According to Veldhuizen, one-fifth of all ag jobs in the world today are production jobs, so he works with students on production-oriented hands-on life practice projects.
“We learn by doing,” he says. “Experiment, experiment, experiment — that’s what an ag class is all about.”
Crop projects are conducted on two test plots in Webster City, and this past summer a group of students also worked on answer plots in Fort Dodge and Vincent. Two grants received last year — one from Hamilton County YiP (Youth in Philanthropy) and another from the Iowa Agricultural Development Authority (IADA) — assisted with the construction of nine raised garden beds, where students are cultivating crops. There is discussion about possibly using some of the produce raised there in the school’s food service.
This is the third year the new state-of-the-art greenhouse — located just outside Veldhuizen’s classroom — has been in use in his program.
“We’re constantly trying something new in there,” the instructor says. “In Plant Science class, each student gets a 4’ x 8’ bench and can experiment with a crop that they choose.” Lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, peas, peppers and radishes are popular choices. Veldhuizen helps students select plants that will succeed in different environments.
“It’s neat to watch the kids analyze those things,” he says. “I help them understand what works or where things went wrong. I’m a firm believer that failure is sometimes our greatest educator.”
A plant sale is held each spring, and in addition to growing practices, students learn about biosecurity, soil disease and pest control while raising the plants. They also gain leadership and entrepreneurial skills through organizing the sale.
“It’s really our bread and butter,” Veldhuizen says. The annuals available for sale include geraniums, impatients, petunias, snapdragons, coleus and marigolds, among others “We usually try some kind of tropical or exotic plant, too.” Last year, it was the “tickle me” plant that reacts to touch.
Future greenhouse projects include installation of a gutter system that would collect rainwater in a storage tank for use in irrigation.
What he enjoys most about his job, Veldhuizen says, is watching how much the students grow and mature in four years.
“I’m always sad to see them go when they graduate,” he says. “I’m very proud of them.”