- February 8, 2023
Agriculture is one of the most important components of Pennsylvania’s and, in particular, Lycoming County’s economy. Unfortunately, the number of those farming is diminishing across the state. As a reminder of the importance of agriculture to our local economy and our way of life, Ben Hepburn, a retired agriculture teacher at Montoursville High School, started
Agriculture is one of the most important components of Pennsylvania’s and, in particular, Lycoming County’s economy. Unfortunately, the number of those farming is diminishing across the state. As a reminder of the importance of agriculture to our local economy and our way of life, Ben Hepburn, a retired agriculture teacher at Montoursville High School, started “Ag Day” 30 years ago as a way of raising awareness of the importance of agriculture to local students, particularly younger ones. This year’s “Ag Day” is taking place on October 12 at Hepburn’s farm off Palmer Hill Road in Loyalsock Township.
Hepburn started teaching agriculture at Montoursville High School in 1984, he only had 28 students in the program, and they needed more students to take agricultural classes, as 25 percent of people were employed in some type of agriculture workforce.
“We started doing more group projects that taught more across the skills of agriculture and not just farming, aka production Ag. We started at Montoursville high school making apple butter at the Ag building as a fundraiser,” Hepburn told Webb Weekly. “We would start at 2 o’clock in the morning, peeling apples, and the students would work all day at making and jarring up the product for sale. Our principal at the time, Mr. Miller, told us that we didn’t need 60 kids (the program was growing) getting out of school all day to make one kettle of apple butter. I agreed, so we started Ag Day!”
He said it was started in 1991 on his farm (Crescent Ridge Farm) for the Montoursville Future Farmers of America students to make apple butter as a fundraiser and promote agriculture to grade school students. They invited the fourth grade from Montoursville School District, around 250 students, and the first grade from Loyalsock School District, around 125 students, to the farm. Including the Ag students, somewhere around 450 students traveled to the farm.
The elementary students were dropped off at the west side of the farm and given a hayride back over the hill to enjoy the fall foliage. Once at the farm, the students were given a demonstration of something unique in the Ag industry, and pheasants were also released in an effort to help re-populate them in the area.
They continued to make apple butter, but they added stations where the Ag students would teach the elementary students about agriculture. 12 to 14 stations were set up. The students would rotate through at five-minute intervals.
The Ag students became the teachers and taught the elementary students about cows, pigs, chickens, goats, rabbits, farm safety, forestry, camping, fire safety, ATV safety, and how to make apple butter, just to name a few.
The FFA student assignment for the day was not just teaching what they knew about agriculture but also observing the different ages and graphics of the students. Ag students had to learn how to communicate with kids from the country versus the city and how to deal with the age and maturity differences between a fourth grader and a first grader. The day was used to teach leadership skills, communication skills, and working together to have a unified outcome, and it was just plain hard work.
“We use the making of apple butter to show students a business plan of taking a raw material and turning it into a product that could be sold,” said Hepburn, “Planning, setting up, and cleaning up for the day was a great learning experience for everyone.”
He continued, “We couldn’t have done this without the help of area farmers who drove the tractors for the hayride and for Koser Busing, who delivered kids to the farm free of charge for 30 years! Over the years, we’ve had many distinguished guests from Senator Gene Yaw, Russ Redding, Secretary of Agriculture, FFA members from other schools, and Farm Bureau guests have all enjoyed and supported our efforts.
“I can’t begin to tell you how important I think programs like these are. People have been removed from the farm for generations and know little about agriculture, where their food comes from, and how it’s produced. We need to continue educating and promoting agriculture and developing a bond between the agriculture community and the people it serves.”
He concluded by saying, “I take a lot of pride in knowing that over the last 30 years, every student in Montoursville and Loyalsock school district has been invited to my farm in hopes to teach and plant a seed about agriculture!
“I retired from teaching in 2020 with around 100 students in Agricultural classes, and it continues to grow. Mr. Dan Tucker took over the Ag program and has continued Ag Day at my farm.”