At the beginning of the fall 2023 school year, Belzer Middle School, located in Indianapolis, Indiana, began offering its first-ever “Intro to Agriculture” class. Much to the teacher Nicole Glover’s surprise, the class was not only full but had a waitlist. On the first day of class, Nicole asked her 32 eighth-grade students what came to mind when they thought about agriculture.
“My kids come from many diverse backgrounds. For my black and brown babies, when they think of agriculture they think Caucasian, big boots and working with cows. Those are the buzzwords they used on that first day. Some of them, especially girls, were afraid they would have to go on a farm or that would be all we would talk about,” says Nicole.
Nicole wanted to teach her students there’s much more to agriculture than just farming. One resource she took advantage of was the school’s new partnership with the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences Pre-College Initiative Program, also known as Junior MANRRS. The bi-weekly after-school program facilitated by Junior MANRRS at Belzer is designed for students in grades 7-12 and helps them discover firsthand how agriculture, engineering and technology relate to the world around them and the careers they can pursue in these fields. Students enrolled in “Intro to Agriculture” class become automatic Junior MANRRS members.
“Through our many conversations in the classroom, it was clear some of the students had a stereotypical view of agriculture and lacked exposure to various opportunities in the industry. As their teacher, I wanted to find a way to help tackle this problem,” Nicole says.
With this goal, Nicole partnered with Junior MANRRS to plan a September field trip to the WinField United SureTech® Laboratories in Indianapolis. SureTech® is a full-service agricultural lab that provides Land O’Lakes retail-owners access to the timely, cost-effective, reliable data their farmers need to make better decisions.
For the event, SureTech staff designed and facilitated an “Amazing Race” style competition with four lab pit stops. Each challenge was structured to teach the students about agriculture and allow them to engage directly with the testing process. The lab pit stops included:
Soil pH: Students learned about soil pH and the impact on crop production before calibrating the pH probe and analyzed pH on a soil sample.
Soybean Cyst Nematode Analysis: After learning about soybean nematodes and the potential crop damage, the teams identified and counted nematode eggs and larvae using a microscope.
Grain Analysis: The grains tested at SureTech are used for food production on common kitchen staples. Students were challenged to match the correct seed, like soybean and corn, with the food, like vegetable oil and corn starch.
Forage Moisture analysis: Using a laboratory balance, students determined the moisture on a forage sample and learned why the data is important to an animal nutrition plan.
At the end of the event, students had time to ask the SureTech team some lingering questions. Many of their questions focused on job satisfaction, what a typical day for the team looks like, how lab chemists fix problems and job opportunities in agriculture.
“It was an eye-opening experience and discussion for them, not only because they got to be hands-on. But hearing from real-life professionals, they realized how agriculture is in every part of their lives," says Nicole. "For example, even if they wanted to be a lawyer in the future, they could be a lawyer in agriculture. Or, if they wanted to be a fashion designer, they may need to work with fiber and textile producers to get their clothing material. The event showed them the career options in agriculture can be endless."
Nicole says the event had such an impact on her fall semester students, she is already working with Junior MANRRS to plan another field trip to SureTech for her new semester of students.