Family business is now in the classroom
The Campbell family has deep agricultural roots in Jefferson County going back to 1901, but one of its most unique crops is a set of three siblings who all decided to become ag teachers.
The Campbell kids, twins Nita and Sara, and brother John F., grew up changing pipe, hoeing fields and picking rock on the family farm north of Madras, run by their parents, John E. and Debby Campbell. When they got older, they graduated to spraying, combining, burning fields and machine maintenance.
"In middle school, dad started paying us, so we wanted to work all the time," John said, noting they worked before and after school, on weekends, and in the summer.
Nita said once she was mowing a grass field and not paying attention. "The grass built up on a belt and started a fire. I didn't have a fire extinguisher, so I drove a fourth-a-mile back to dad slinging sparks the whole way. The field caught fire and the fire department came out."
When the girls were in the eighth grade, their parents split up and they moved with their mom to Redmond, while John stayed on the farm with his dad. Attending Redmond High School, the girls took ag classes and were in FFA all four years under ag teacher Ted Tesconi.
In one project, they grew an alfalfa field. "We handled the money, grew and planted it, and all the steps from start to finish," Sara said. Nita added, "In metal shop Sara and I made a trailer, and we had zero experience in welding."
Despite being in Redmond, the girls continued to raise 4-H and FFA pigs for fair at the Madras farm. "We'd get them spring break and go to the farm every weekend to train them," Sara said. They ground their own feed and had the pigs on self-feeders, which their dad and John kept an eye on.
With projects in two towns, Sara said, "We were both really independent, and I think that helped us be more confident later as ag teachers." The sisters also started a Madras 4-H club of their own called the "Pigsters," and ran it for four years.
After graduating from RHS in 1999, Nita attended Central Oregon Community College for two years. "First, I wanted to be a vet, but that wasn't right. Then I took rangeland management, but it was lonely," she said.
Meanwhile, Nita and Bryan Bozarth, from Madras, got married and it was his stepdad, Bob Crocker, who helped her find a career. "I wanted to do something in agriculture and I had enjoyed working with students in 'Pigsters,' and Bob Crocker suggested I be an ag teacher," she said.
Liking the idea, she attended Oregon State University for four years, earning a degree in general agriculture, then received a master's degree in ag education through a one-year program. Her first job was teaching at Hood River Valley High School, where she has been on staff for 16 years.
"Eight years ago, we got Oregon Ag Program of the Year. Ours is one of the biggest in the state and we have three ag teachers," she said. In fact, her husband, Bryan, is one of the ag teachers, along with Danielle Bull. An ag teacher can either be certified by a university or certified through industry experience reviewed by a board. Bryan, who grew up on a Madras farm, was certified for industry.
"He sure connects with a lot of students who have a hard time with traditional school. He has them in the shop working with their hands," Nita said.
HRVHS has 1,300 students, and its agriculture program includes wood and metal shop and crops. You'd think crops would top the list of ag subjects taught in a valley renowned for its fruit orchards, but that's not so.
"We haven't taught horticulture or plant science in 10 years," Nita said. The most popular classes are mechanics and construction, followed by metal shop, wood shop, flower design, and animal and vet science.
She enjoys "digging deep to find students' potential" then matching them up with FFA projects they could do. All ag students are now automatically signed up as FFA members.
"It's not all cows and plows. It also teaches leadership, public speaking and interviewing," she said of the benefits of FFA, noting, "We're working on resumes now."
They try to have all students have a SAE, or supervised ag experience, such as building something in wood shop, raising livestock, or doing a planting or cooking project, to learn a whole process.
"I also tell students the importance of learning a skill, so if future plans don't work out, they have something to fall back on," she said, adding, "I love my job, that's for sure!"
Nita and Bryan Bozarth are busy raising two children, Elisabeth, 11, and Matthew, 8, in addition to their jobs, which often include FFA weekend and afterschool events. In the summer, the ag teachers also visit students to check on their FFA animals and projects for the county and state fairs, and check on the land lab – a 1-acre plot planted with tomatoes and peppers for the food bank.
Meanwhile, Sara decided to pursue a natural resources degree and attended COCC for two years, then graduated from OSU-Cascades. But after watching her sister's career, she thought, "Wait a minute, Nita's an ag teacher and that's cool."
She worked one summer for the National Resource Conservation Service, then returned to OSU for extra courses to get a general agriculture degree, and then earned a master's degree in agricultural education.
Her first job was two years in La Grande teaching mostly welding, but when the program was cut in half, she left and was hired at White Salmon, across the river from Nita in Hood River, which was a lot of fun.
But after a year, her boyfriend, Malcolm Vollmer, proposed, which forced a decision. "He was working as a forester for the Warm Springs Tribes, so we moved back to Madras, and I worked one year at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Luckily, a brand-new grant-funded ag program opened up at Jefferson County Middle School, and she was hired for it, and also started an FFA chapter there. Called a "Discovery" program, she said, "It was the first middle school FFA program in the state and had 40 members in the chapter and officers."
After three years at JCMS, Sara moved up to the Madras High School ag teaching position, where she has been for the past five years. She said the middle school program is designed to flow into the MHS program.
MHS has separate wood construction, metals and agriculture programs. She teaches animal and plant science, ag leadership, small gas engines, metal forging and acetylene welding, while Ben Anderson teaches the other welding processes.
Sara teaches six ag classes with an average of 120 students a day and also runs an FFA program with 60 members. Students keep pigs, goats, chickens and have a greenhouse at the school land lab and raise funds with annual plant and Christmas tree sales and pig and turkey raffles.
She welcomes guest speakers to talk about careers, and her dad, and mom and step-dad, Debby and Rolando Mendez, have all volunteered in her classroom.
FFA members do community service projects, including clearing rock from the historical society's wheat field at the fairgrounds, weeding plots in Madras, doing Adopt-A-Highway cleanups, and more.
A big FFA focus is the seven district Career Development Education competitions, or CDEs, which test students' skills in areas including tractor driving, shop, ag sales and speaking. There are also annual state competitions, and a national competition, which MHS students attend once every four years.
"This year, we did two state CDEs in horse evaluation, which Michelle Simmelink helped train our team, and meats evaluation, which Oregon Beef helped train," Sara said.
Like her sister, Sara will be busy this summer checking on student projects and the land lab, getting FFA members ready for fair, plus she and Malcolm are expecting their first child.
John loved growing up on a farm and said he, "110 percent wanted to be a farmer for three reasons: you can be your own boss, help feed America, and it's a wonderful environment to raise a family."
At MHS, he took ag classes and was in FFA all four years, with Mike Wilson as his teacher, and got to go to the FFA national convention twice.
The best thing he learned in FFA was, "Practicing to perfection. In welding, I could do as many hours as I wanted. I built trailers and it was nice to have an ag coach," he said.
After graduating in 1997, he attended OSU to earn a degree in business, then took over the family farm when his dad opened Farmers Cycle and Small Engine Repair in Madras. "I farmed all by myself for three years, doing the planting, marketing and hiring," he said.
John left to earn a master's degree in education at George Fox University and was hired in 2007 to teach science in Stanfield, Oregon. During that time, Poland Dairy bought half the farm and the other half was leased out until two years ago, when the Campbells sold the farm.
After three years in Stanfield, he returned to Madras and helped his dad at Farmers Cycle for five years, working mostly with farmers and loggers, and that experience strengthened his interest in a teaching career.
"I learned that education is really important, especially ag sciences, because a lot of customers didn't understand how to maintain equipment and how agriculture works, and I wanted to help the community learn," he said.
When his sister Sara moved to MHS, John took over her ag science classes at JCMS from 2016-18. He was an industry certified ag teacher because of his past farming and business experience.
But he was interested in expanding his horizons. "I wanted to run an entire program, which included high school, and wanted to move to some place different from Central Oregon. My family has been in Madras for five to six generations, and I was the first John Campbell to move out," he said.
With his wife, Jennifer, and two children, Autumn, 7, and John A., 5, he took a job at South Umpqua High School in Myrtle Creek, Oregon, in 2020. He said he loves the area, where the main industries are forestry, sheep and cattle raising, and nursery operations.
The SUHS program has separate metals and wood shop teachers, while John teaches intro to agriculture, animal and plant science, veterinary science, forestry, ag biology, and leadership classes.
"This program is young, only in its eighth year, whereas the MHS program is five to six decades old. Eventually, our metals and woods will all be in the ag program," he said.
There are also 120 students in the FFA program, and their focus is on learning skills through CDE competitions. "Throughout the school year, we have a CDE event every week, and the field trips keep us very busy," he said.
Certified agriculture teachers are getting hard to find, so having three from one family is pretty unique.
"It's definitely hard because it's so specific, and it's hard to keep ag teachers because of the time commitment of being both a teacher and doing FFA events on weekends," Sara noted.
Nita added, "There are not enough certified ag teachers to fill all the positions and sometimes science teachers have to teach some classes."
But the Campbell siblings enjoy their jobs and the chance to train the next generation of farmers and employees for a wide array of ag-related businesses. There are also big benefits of them all being in the same profession.
"At the state FFA convention, I run into my sisters. We share ideas and help each other out as much as we can," John said.
"Every Thursday, we three do a Google meet and discuss the goods and bads of ag, how to deal with a problem kid, and how to deal with documentation," Nita said, adding, "I brought a bunch of our plants that didn't sell to Sara and she sold them all for us."
"We share constantly. We all have greenhouses and trade plants and a lot of ideas. If one has a question about an animal, we share photos. Nita has the most experience and shares ideas and teaching plans," Sara said.
"The most fun part is when our FFA chapters go to state we get to hang out together. At nationals, I went with Nita's chapter and stayed in the same hotel. It was perfect, and our chapters got to know each other. But the kids get us mixed up because we're identical twins," Sara laughed.
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