Led by teacher Patty Parsons, an Agriculture Program at South Seneca has been a tremendous success so far this school year, with the seventh grade class participating in a half-year agriculture class. 

“I had two sections in the fall, and we have another section in the spring semester,” Parsons said. “We have five units we are covering, which are recommended state education: Agriculture and Leadership, Animals in Agriculture, Plants in Agriculture, Stewardship of the Land, and Agricultural Mechanics. In the Agriculture and Leadership unit, students explored agricultural careers through National FFA's AgExplorer program and learned about different leaders in the agricultural industry. They also got a brief overview of the FFA program, which we are hoping to implement at South Seneca in the coming year.”

During the Animals in Agriculture unit, students were able to learn about some of the types of agricultural animals, including dairy cattle, beef cattle, poultry, and swine. Students conducted a taste test of different milks, including soy, almond, oat, and dairy milk. Students also tried to figure out which milk was which, and had a very good time with this, Parsons added.  

In November, the seventh grade class was able to visit Persoon's Dairy Farm in Interlaken.  This trip was sponsored and organized by Seneca CCE, NYS Farm to School Program-Seneca County, and Seneca County 4-H. Students were able to physically see and touch the dairy industry through this trip. Students also tasted cheese curd made from the Persoon's milk at the Lively Run Dairy, also in Interlaken.  

The seventh grade class also put together a submission for the Top Cut Beef Contest, sponsored by NY Agriculture in the Classroom and NY Beef Council. For this contest, students need to create a balanced, beef-centric meal that could be served in their school cafeteria, calculate a cost per meal, nutritional facts, and an advertisement campaign for their dish.  They placed third for the contest.

Students have also been able to see the work that the High School Garden Lit classes are doing. The Garden Lit class maintains the school garden and three grow towers in the building that provide the school with supplemental greens in the cafeteria.  

All of these initiatives have been spearheaded by Parsons, but she was quick to note that none of it would be possible without tremendous support from staff and administration, notably former High School Principal Tim Houseknecht, current High School Principal Sarah Horton, Middle School Principal Missy Butler, Superintendent Steve Zielinski, and Foodservice Director Adam Snell.

“I grew up on a dairy farm in Central New York,” she said. “Agriculture has been a big part of my life, and still continues to be, with my son's participation in 4-H programming here in Seneca County. I continue to serve as a volunteer at 4-H programs because that program had such an impact on my life. For several years I have been incorporating Agriculture into my classes, whether it has been teaching about it when I taught sixth grade social studies, or in a middle school enrichment class, and incorporating the school garden into my middle school English class, where we created a colonial style garden bed and a victory garden bed to go along with the American Revolution and WWII era books we were reading.” 

“Last year,” she continued, “I was lucky enough to be able to pilot the Garden Lit class in the high school. This class was very popular, with students being able to participate in growing foods to eat in the classroom, and growing greens and herbs to be used in our school cafeteria in the winter months.”

Because of that success, Parsons said the school’s farm-to-school team applied to participate in the Farm to Institute NYS program last year, and was eventually selected to receive a grant to help with our farm to school programming.  

“With that funding we bought the aeroponic grow towers that we used to grow many of the greens for our class and cafeteria. We also were a recipient of the Farm to School Partnership award in 2022, awarded by the School Nutrition Association and the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets. It was apparent to us that our kids were interested in agriculture, and living in an agriculturally rich area, it only made sense to move forward with including agriculture in our programming. This year we have the Agriculture program in the middle school and the Garden Lit class, which is an English credit with strong agriculture programming, in the high school. We also will have a half year Intro to Ag class in the high school during the second half of the year this year.”

This spring, Parsons said students will be looking forward to “starting our seedlings for the community garden and learning how to utilize our small greenhouse that will be located near our community garden plot.”

There are other exciting developments on the horizon.

Parsons said they are hoping to bring back a full Agriculture Program to South Seneca, including a FFA chapter. FFA, traditionally Future Farmers of America, involves so much more than just making the next generation of farmers.

“It prepares members for leadership opportunities and careers in agriculture, including the science, business, and technology sectors,” Parsons said. “It seems that in the past few decades, Agriculture has been forgotten in our schools, but luckily, people are starting to recognize Agriculture as something worth educating our students about again. I'm excited to be part of that for our South Seneca family.”