Barnyard Family Night targets future farmers at DeKalb High School

Event coincides with national FFA Week, which runs through Saturday, to promote agriculture education in DeKalb schools

Rowan Bullifin, 3, from DeKalb plays with the corn during the Future Farmers of America Baryard Zoo Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at DeKalb High School. The program, which is held during National FFA Week, gives local kids a chance to visit the high school and learn about the FFA program and animals in agriculture.

DeKALB – DeKalb High School student Cole Stoffa showcased an old 1950s tractor Wednesday, part of the high school’s annual Barnyard Family Night meant to help give students a hands-on look into agricultural life.

He’d been tasked with restoring the tractor as part of an FFA program he’s enrolled in at DeKalb High School.

“It’s sat in the FFA shed at Malta,” Stoffa said. “Then, the mice ate all the wiring and stuff. So I’m just redoing all that wiring, trying to revamp it and get it running so we can either get it ready for spring planting or [to] be [a] homecoming parade float. That’s my main goal: to get this done by then.”

Stoffa was among dozens on hand for the annual Barnyard Family Night to promote agriculture education.

The event coincided with National FFA Week, which commenced Feb. 17 and continues through Saturday.

DeKalb FFA chapter adviser Dayna Anderson said that this week brings great significance to the local chapter.

“National FFA Week is a thing for all the chapters across the nation to feel like they are connected and to showcase all the great things we do,” Anderson said. “It’s the largest youth leadership organization in the country. With less than 2% of Americans involved in the food industry, it’s really important to do things like our barnyards do and let people see what animals there are.”

At the event, visitors had a special opportunity to engage with rabbits, cows, goats, horse, pigs and chicks.

DeKalb FFA chapter adviser Sarah Peterson said students get a taste of hands-on experience with some of the animals on a normal basis.

“A lot of our animals here are just visitors,” Peterson said. “We do have the rabbits here. We keep them here year-round. We have three rabbits that we use in our animal science and animal care classes. ... We have chicks every year. But our bigger animals are mostly just here for the petting zoo.”

Peterson said it’s clear that more students are taking an interest in agricultural courses.

“Our agriculture numbers have been growing substantially in the past three years,” Peterson said. “We have a lot of students more interested in taking the hands-on classes and learning more career-based skills. Our enrollment has increased, especially since [COVID-19]. There was a lull during [the pandemic] because we weren’t really doing any activities or anything.”

Peterson credited the rise that she’s noted in agricultural course participation to several factors.

“I think there’s just a lot more kids that are interested in maybe not necessarily four-year college-bound careers,” she said. “We have a lot of kids coming in that want to do something more hands-on, maybe go to technical school after high school. I think that’s a big part of it.

“We also have a lot of students interested in the animal industry at DHS, so we’ve really been growing our animal classes and the number of students receiving those classes.”

Stoffa said visitors appeared to be intrigued by his vintage tractor project.

“They’re definitely interested with the age of it since it is 50, 60 year old,” he said. “It’s an old tractor. Just keeping these things alive is just what we’re trying to do. [It’s] just a little gem of history. It’s a pretty popular tractor.”

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