December 5, 2000 | By: Laura Skillman

Students in Ohio County schools know there is more to agricultural careers than production agriculture. They have learned that fact through a unique program called Ag Force.

The program gives eighth-grade students a taste of agriculture careers through speakers, career fairs and a mentoring program. The program was developed by the Ohio County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, Ohio County Schools and Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

"Ag Force really started with an idea," said Debbie Mayes, Ohio County Middle School curriculum coordinator. "In elementary school we've done ag days in fourth grade and ag camp and so we wanted to do something at the middle school and Greg Comer, Ohio County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources and Gary Druin, Extension Agent for 4-H/Youth Development, came to me with an idea."

In the eighth grade, careers are introduced to students anyway and this broadens their minds and shows them the opportunities in agriculture, she said.

"Biotechnology and seed genetics are some things students didn't know about. Many just thought agriculture was farms and plows and they've found it is much more than that," Mayes said.

The event goes for about 1½ weeks with six speakers throughout that time. The career fair at the end of the event gives students a look at various agriculture careers, and some 16 different businesses were set up recently inside the middle school gym.

At the fair, students ask business people a series of questions about education needs, salary expectations, and the job's future prospects.

In January, the students will apply to shadow a person with a job in agriculture. The students must apply to be in the program much like a job application and have a letter of recommendation. If the application is not filled out properly they will not be included in this segment of the program.

Last year, 22 students participated in the mentoring program.

Eighth-grader Aston Variot said since the program began, she's discovered that a good background in math and science is essential for many jobs in agriculture, especially those that interests her.

"The genetic mixing of the crops and the hybrids are really neat, like how you can eat corn and it will help your allergies," she said.

Greg Comer, agriculture extension agent, said the concept came out of discussions between myself and 4-H agent Gary Druin and the county's agriculture council.

"We wanted to look at agriculture careers and were missing a middle link between elementary and high school," he said. "Our main goal was we wanted to give the kids a much more in-depth look at agriculture careers."

They went to the school and discussed the concept with Mayes and a group of teachers who developed the program that incorporates goals the school has through the Kentucky Education Reform Act.

Comer said the students are becoming teachers. They are taking what they've learned and educating their parents about the opportunities available in agriculture.

"It's a lot more than plows and cows," he said.


Greg Comer, (270) 298-7441