Dubuque high school class invites students to explore agriculture

A trio of Wahlert Catholic High School students spent a recent morning helping their teacher construct a small greenhouse behind the Dubuque school.

So far, they have spent their summer planting and selling produce and tackling agriculture-oriented research projects for a new class.

“This is going to be kind of a nice lead-in because they’ll be building hoop houses later this month,” science teacher Korrin Schriver said of the greenhouse construction.

This summer, Schriver is offering an agricultural research and career exploratory class at Wahlert, in which students have the opportunity to learn about the various aspects of growing and producing food through research and hands-on experiences. In exchange, they earn a semester of science course credit.

Schriver said she hopes the class helps students gain an appreciation for and understanding of where their food comes from.

“It’s been great,” she said. “I couldn’t have a better group of students to start off with.”

The class spends some time each week learning about different agriculture-related topics in a classroom setting, but much of their coursework centers on hands-on experiences and learning from local experts in the field.

Students help with planting, seeding, weeding and harvesting both at their school’s garden beds and on farmland owned by Schriver and her husband. They also help operate a farmers market booth for the Schrivers’ ReEvolution Farms.

“It changes every week so they can have some varied experiences,” Schriver said.

Their summer includes visits with businesses and organizations such as Convivium Urban Farmstead, Sandhill Farm and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Meanwhile, students also are working on research projects to present at the end of the summer. One student is examining the impacts of declining numbers of family farms while another is examining vermicomposting — which uses worms in the composting process.

Kenna Wolbers, who will be a junior at Wahlert this fall, is working on the compost research project this summer, exploring how various species of worms affect the nutrient composition of soil.

“I’m really getting into composting and how we can reduce the amount of waste going into landfills,” she said.

She said she took an interest in the class because it offered her the chance to do something academic during the summer, get her hands dirty and learn about sustainable methods of growing food.

“It’s given me a lot to do,” Kenna said. “The hands-on experience helps solidify some of the learning and experiences we have around the beginning of the week.”

Megan Hefel, also a rising junior at Wahlert, said the class has fit in nicely with her interest in gardening.

She said a recent visit to Convivium Urban Farmstead in Dubuque helped her learn about growing a lot of produce without needing much space. While she doesn’t think she will pursue agriculture as a career, there’s still plenty to be gleaned from knowing how to grow her own food.

“It’s a nice skill to be able to learn over time,” she said.

Wahlert student Leah Park said she has been learning tips and tricks on how to garden.

“It’s fun to harvest and plant things and get to know the people around you in the process,” she said.