Herald and Journal, Jan. 15, 2001

Dream of regional center part of changing profile in modern ag

By Lynda Jensen

Hydroponics.

Diesel mechanics.

Landscape designers.

Metal fabricaters.

Precision agriculture.

Sound like farm-related fields? They are exactly that - and part of a dream for a regional ag/science center at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School, in conjunction with the University of Minnesota.

The center would give high school and college level students the chance to prepare for a continuing career in a spectrum of fields related to agriculture in the 21st century.

The dream is part of the changing profile of modern farming.

Few may realize that 20 percent of jobs in Minnesota right now are agriculture-related, said Riley Hoheisel, HLWW school superintendent.

Of these jobs, less than 2 percent signify family farming as it once was, said Jim Weninger, HLWW ag instructor.

Although the mom and pop farm with 40 acres and eight dairy cows is a chapter in American history, the related job fields that manifest the attractive features of farming: pride, dignity, self reliance, and working with natural resources, are very much a vibrant possibility in the jobs today of the 21st century.

Eventually, it is possible the center could partner with the county extension office, educational workshops and summer programs for agriculture education.

In addition, there is a charter school for urban education due to open this fall in Roseville, that would complement opportunities at the HLWW regional center of agriculture science.

The Wright Technical Center also has 1,000 students from grades 9-12 that are a source for potential students as well.

Two-way interactive television and modern technology could be used for education opportunities with the University of Minnesota as well.

Possibilities with the ag/science center also reach across other disciplines, Hoheisel said. "It's not only ag," he said.

The foundation for the regional center is being laid now, with Hoheisel meeting with legislators and formulating alliances with University of Minnesota professional staff and other contacts to make the vision a reality.

The school board hired a grant writer to pursue several different potential financial resources.

Hoheisel started a year ago with the project, making contact with University of Minnesota staff.

Since then, Hoheisel visited the Brainerd agriculture farm with Gene Lorentz, school board chairman. The Brainerd facility is the only one in the state.

Last summer, he visited with the USDA rural development in relation to a distance learning grant.

He has also contacted three local legislators - Sen. Steve Dille, Rep. Tony Kielkucki, and Rep. Bob Ness, who support the concept of the regional ag/science center, he said.

Recently, HLWW received $11,000 as a program grant from the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning for the regional center.

This grant will help pay for curriculum and the vision statement, Hoheisel said.

Another grant for up to $8,000 was also verbally pledged from the Central Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Hoheisel said.

A committee, led by Colette Thorson, is moving forward with the vision.

Two other grants were applied for and not received, Hoheisel said.


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