Gervais FFA: Stocking up on ag skills
Another spring means another season of raising livestock for the Gervais High School FFA program. But unlike previous seasons, this year's animals are taking up residence in fancy new digs after moving on up to the school's new livestock barn located on the southern side of the campus.
The shell of the barn was erected last spring, but this is the first year the structure is teeming with life, be it lambs, goats and hogs or their student caretakers.
"We have five kids showing goats," Gervais FFA adviser Megan Dilson said. "We have three lambs in here, and then we'll have three pigs for FFA."
The remaining space will be used by the 4H program to raise hogs as well, giving the barn full tenancy and forcing the program's advisers to anticipate expansion of the facility before the first season is even underway.
The barn is just one part of the ever-evolving goal to expand upon the school district's agriculture and tech programs.
"We have been fundraising for the past seven years," said Molly McCargar, a member of the Friends of Gervais FFA. "In the last five, we have started the notion of building a farm, just outside city limits."
That would allow the FFA program to raise livestock at the school without violating the city's ordinance on raising livestock in city limits, which cuts through the campus' southern fields between the softball and baseball fields.
Last year's livestock was raised in small pens located out in the fields while the barn was being erected, but this year's animals will have much more comfortable confines, courtesy of the combined contributions from a variety of volunteers, community members and businesses who are all eager to see the school district's agriculture and tech programs flourish.
The barn is divided in half, with small animals such as sheep and goats on the left and larger animals like swine in the more reinforced stalls on the other side. Each stall will have individual water spigots and electricity to keep their younger animals warm with heat lamps in early spring and give students the ability to clip their animals in the summer prior to show.
Access to the barn will be limited to students in the FFA and 4H programs who are granted access to the security code needed to enter the barn. The facility is outfitted with a number of cameras that link to an app that Dilson and others can use to monitor and instruct students from afar.
"We can actually talk to them through the app, so I can yell at kids if I need to, to feed the animals or stop messing around," Dilson said.
Students pay for the tenancy of their animals with labor. They are required to put in a minimum number of hours each day to take care of their animals, clean the barn and help maintain the facilities.
Each barn stall has access to a fenced pen area, allowing the animals to get out and stretch their legs. Despite only being in its first year of use, the barn is already at maximum occupancy, and Dilson is eager to see it grow in future years to allow for more animals and larger animals.
"We'd like to eventually expand the barn," Dilson said. "It is the dream that eventually kids show steer and we have a class horse out here for the equine class."
Most of the funds for the program come from its annual banquet and auction, which was recently held in February at the Mount Angel Festhalle. This year's banquet netted just shy of $26,000, with businesses like Wilco, Knife River and Pape Machinery filling out the guest list to help raise record profits for the program.
With much of the heavy lifting for the barn's construction already complete, this year's banquet was about raising money for the school's other programs, such as career technical education (CTE) and agriculture.
"The theme this year was 'Stock the Shop,'" Dilson said. "Some of that money will be towards improving the metal shop and wood shop."
Additional projects include improvements in the greenhouse to allow for drip irrigation and self-watering components. Dilson would also like to upgrade the school's veterinary science program by getting more anatomy and dissection tables to provide for more hands-on opportunities for students.
"I just want to expand," Dilson said.
Eventually, Dilson said they'll take the fences to the property border to allow for more and larger animals, but that's for another year. In the meantime, the FFA, CTE and 4H programs will continue to grow each year, thanks to those in the community who are excited to see what future classes can learn from the continued evolution of those programs.
"There's some support there," Dilson said. "They want it, they like it, and they want to keep this program growing."