PLAINVIEW — For Ashley Holst, the Plainview-Elgin-Millville agriculture education program gave her a place like no other among the activities and opportunities in her high school years.

"I grew up on a dairy farm, so ag has always been in my life," said Holst, now a freshman studying dairy production at South Dakota State University. "But being taught different ways to do things and being about to teach others as they come up kept me going in it."

The Plainview-Elgin-Millville Future Farmers of America received a grant from the National FFA Organization to establish raised gardens. The produce from the gardens is then donated to the local food shelf. (Contributed photo/P-E-M High School)
The Plainview-Elgin-Millville Future Farmers of America received a grant from the National FFA Organization to establish raised gardens. The produce from the gardens is then donated to the local food shelf. (Contributed photo/P-E-M High School)(Contributed photo/P-E-M High School)

The excellence of P-E-M's agriculture education program was honored this year as the Outstanding Middle/Secondary Agricultural Education Program for 2020 in the state by the Minnesota Association of Agriculture Educators.

"The neatest thing about this is being recognized by your peers," said Paul Aarsvold, one of two agriculture teachers at P-E-M.

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The school's agriculture program was selected from among 32 programs in Southeast Minnesota as the representative to move forward and was selected as the top program in the state from among more than 300 schools.

P-E-M Future Farmers of America members Madison Webster, Julie Webster, Jordyn Schumacher, Tony Roberton, Julia Aarsvold, Kaylin Liebenow, Mia Dose compete in the Minnesota State Fair FFA Landscaping Booth competition where they design and install a booth. (Contributed photo/P-E-M High School)
P-E-M Future Farmers of America members Madison Webster, Julie Webster, Jordyn Schumacher, Tony Roberton, Julia Aarsvold, Kaylin Liebenow, Mia Dose compete in the Minnesota State Fair FFA Landscaping Booth competition where they design and install a booth. (Contributed photo/P-E-M High School)(Contributed photo/P-E-M High School)

Not that it was easy in 2020 with distance learning being the norm while agriculture students and Future Farmers of America participants were used to hands-on activities such as classes in horticulture, small engines and welding.

Steve Hinrichs, P-E-M's other agriculture teacher, said he and Aarsvold have been working together for 16 years to make the program better each year. This year, remodeling and construction at the school will give P-E-M students better facilities to work in when they return to in-school classes.

Like Holst, current P-E-M students referred to the agriculture program as a "family" where they found other students who looked forward to helping support them and teachers who give great advice on topics both in and out of the classroom.

"They give you great advice and life, advice on how to be a good person, and a good person in the community," said Jordyn Schumacher, a senior this fall who has been involved with the agriculture program since seventh grade when she started out in horse judging. Since then, she's attended leadership training, done dairy judging and helped with FFA activities. "It’s where you fit in best in school. You just become really close with them over time."

Mia Dose, another senior this fall, said while she grew up in town before moving out to the country in fifth grade, she's always enjoyed spending time on friends' farms, and learning more about agriculture just seemed interesting. Eventually, she hopes to own a hobby farm and use the knowledge of small animals that she's gained.

Clara Thompson, another senior, said she was thrilled to win state in dairy judging this year as part of FFA, and went on to place 13th nationally. But she's really enjoyed helping put on events in the community, taking some of that agriculture education and spreading it around for the next generation.

"We had a silo movie," Thompson said, recalling an event where about 120 community members attended. "They talked about the hazards of farming and we had the fire department out there. They talked about how they rescue people from grain bins."

As for the teachers, they're just glad that the school's 85-year-old program has built a tradition in the community it serves.

"Our program’s success is about the students we have here and their time and work," Aarsvold said. "As for awards, it’s not why we do it."