It’s called Farmer’s Night School
SIBLEY – It’s a phenomenon that takes place in January and February each year, with its roots coming straight out of the ag education room at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School.
Farmer’s Night School is something that began here more than 30 years ago under the direction of former ag education teacher Mike Earll.
Topics have evolved with agriculture, but it does so under the direction of current ag education teacher, Brian Gottlob, in his first year with the school district.
On Feb. 20, he led discussions, requested by attending farmers, on Iowa Department of Transportation semi inspections.
That session featured DOT Enforcement Officer Austin Budden and a semi, showing farmers how to do their own inspections to keep their trucks safe on the road.
Agriculture professionals gather on Thursday evenings at different community sites to be educated on the evening’s topic.
Thost topics have ranged from land values to grain marketing, home-grown natural and organic food, local orchards and honey bees, goats for milk and soap making, social media and estate planning, international trade and tariffs.
One of the February sessions was held at a local studio where ornate clocks are made, including one that was 18 foot tall and another that was 18 feet wide.
Pieces for a clock of that size were compiled in the Sibley-based studio and hauled to New York City for assembly at the lobby of the Long Island Jewish Hospital.
Gottlob said he was told that almost every ag program used to have something like this “back in the day.”
However, as families became busier and agriculture and electronic communication developed, farmers weren’t relying on the local Extension services as much for their own information, Gottlob said.
Many schools drifted away from the planning it took to coordinate the class.
Gottlob said, to his knowledge, Sibley-Ocheyedan has the only ag program in the area that still features this extended farm education.
It is open to anyone to learn about ag issues and local interests. Although it began as something for farmers and other ag professionals, today it showcases a variety of topics and draws a diverse crowd from various from week to week, Gottlob said.
“I’m trying to take more of an agricultural approach,” he said. “My first goal was to bring someone in to talk about the farm bill and the Renewable Fuels Standard, which is going to affect the demand for corn.
“As the value of corn fluctuates, so do land values and cash rents, which is what the second speaker was going to talk about.”
Gottlob said his goal is to draw a younger crowd, giving them an opportunity to network with both young and older farmers.
Attendance ranges from 12 to 30, depending on the topic and weather conditions. On Feb. 20, a snowstorm brought only eight attendees.
The class typically meets at the school’s ag room.
Gottlob said there is no budget at the school for the course. Attendees often contribute a freewill offering for refreshments, which is typically the only expense involved.
Gottlob said these classes are not part of his teaching contract – he’s just continuing to coordinate them to “keep a good thing going.”
“It is a tradition that has been going on here,” Gottlob said, “and I felt the need for it to continue. Sometimes the FFA will pick up some expenses as a way to support the community that supports them.”
The course typically runs for eight weeks, and Gottlob said with the diverse topics, the course is no longer geared specifically for farmers, but for anyone who wants to learn something of local interest.
“There’s zero registration or cost, so it’s just a matter of coming,” he said. “It’s a great time to socialize and learn about lots of things, but especially issues facing rural America.”
Gottlob said people have been enjoying it and see the value in it.
He cited one woman who came to the grain marketing class to help her understand it on a professional level and to help her work with her husband as they marketed their own grain.
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