By Starrla Cray
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Larry Marquette works with kids and not just human ones.
He’s a science and agriculture teacher at Dassel-Cokato High School who also has chickens, geese, an orchard, vegetable gardens, and goats.
“Spring becomes very busy with the goats kidding, starting plants, and grafting more apple trees,” Marquette said. “All goats are bottle fed as babies to make them more tame for handling and minimizing disease problems.”
Marquette grew up in the dairy industry, which played a “huge role” in his interest in science.
“Farm life is entrenched in science, and a better understanding of science leads to a better understanding of farming and agriculture,” he explained.
Marquette aims to teach his students about the sources of their food, and to inspire them to pursue their own passions, whether its in agriculture or something entirely different.
He came to DC schools in 2008, after three years teaching science in Annandale. He volunteered to help coach a couple of Career Development Experience (CDE) teams for FFA, and became the assistant FFA advisor the next school year.
“In the spring of 2016, I obtained my teaching license in agricultural education, and in the fall of 2016, I began teaching a few agriculture courses, horticulture, and food chemistry,” he noted.
Surrounded by nature
When he’s not at school, Marquette can be found at home, helping on the family farm in Buffalo, where his brother works full time raising beef, corn, soybeans, hay and some small grains.
“While I help him when needed and when I have time, I have my own projects, as well,” Marquette said.
One of those projects is raising dairy goats for breeding and show purposes. He currently has 20 purebred saanen and nubian does and four bucks that he shows around the state and at the Minnesota State Fair, and serves as a board member of the American Dairy Goat Association.
“The milk from the goats is primarily used on the farm for our own family’s consumption,” Marquette noted. “Excess milk is fed to feeder pigs that are purchased each year.”
Compared to dairy cows, Marquette said goats are much more “people oriented.”
“Goats are fantastic,” he said. “They are full of personality and fun to work with and just watch. They are kind of like dogs with how interested they are in people.”
Marquette also raises and sells two types of geese (American Buff and Sebastopol) and broiler chickens. He also has Welsummer and Marran chickens, and a flock of 80 laying hens. Eggs are sold to regular customers and at the Buffalo Farmers Market.
“My interests sometimes change, so I am often adding or changing out the poultry I raise,” he said.
Reaping a harvest
In addition to selling animal products, Marquette sells produce through a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, and at the Buffalo Farmers Market under the farm name, Chatham Preservation Farm.
“The focus of the one-acre produce operation is growing produce as sustainably as possible utilizing cover crops, natural mulches, and minimum chemical applications,” Marquette noted. “Many of the crops grown are unique heirloom varieties. Additionally there is a young orchard of 200 apple, pear, and plum trees consisting of some new varieties as well as some unique antique varieties. Much of the orchard is due to my interest in grafting my own trees and preserving rare and unknown varieties.”
The CSA has about 10 shares each year. Early in the growing season, customers are treated to rhubarb, asparagus, lettuce, spinach, onions, mixed greens, radishes and peas. Come summer, beans, peas, beets, carrots, zucchini, and more greens move in. By late summer and fall, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, corn, potatoes, garlic, squash, melons, pears, apples, and pumpkins come into season.
“Many of the crops are unique in their colors, flavors ,and characteristics over 50 different varieties of tomatoes, 15 kinds of colorful carrots and beets, 10 kinds of cabbage, and always purple, green, and yellow beans,” Marquette noted. “I also grow 12 different varieties of garlic and make sauerkraut thanks to my Polish ancestry that is sold at the market.”
Like most farmers, Marquette’s work is never done.
“I maintain my own chores morning and evenings and then work full time in the summer,” he said. “ . . . While I love working the farm all summer, I am ready for school in the fall for a change of pace, working with students and sharing my experiences of the farm.”
Marquette said it seems people have an intrinsic desire to work with their hands, to grow and nurture things, and to experience peaceful nature settings.
“I see it when kids go into the greenhouse and work with plants, when people tour the farm and see the animals, crops and views, and when FFA members work with youth in teaching about agriculture,” he explained. “I love helping connect kids to science through agriculture.”