OWASCO — While other students departed a workshop to move on to the next station at Dickman Farms during a career day event there Oct. 9, Donna Garrow stuck around.

Donna, a 16-year-old Moravia High School student, learned in the workshop how to snip, or "pinch," plants in order for their stalks to branch out properly. She then caught up with her fellow students for the next workshop, in which they learned about bugs used to combat insects that harm plants. Donna spent a lot of time during that workshop using a device to view bugs in a container. 

Later, Donna said she knew some of the information presented during the workshops that morning, as she has some experience with landscaping work. But she didn't know all of it. And because she wants to be a farmer after high school, she spent the career day event trying to absorb as much knowledge as possible.

"I want to be a farmer and help anyone and everyone that I can, and getting to know what I need to know now will make my chances of getting to do that a lot higher," she said.

The career day was organized by Cayuga Community College with assistance from Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES and other partnering organizations. A little more than 110 Cayuga County-area students were shown different aspects of the agricultural industry through interactive workshops at Dickman, Oakwood Dairy in Auburn and Cayuga Milk Ingredients in Aurelius. Groups of students from the Moravia, Southern Cayuga, Cato-Meridian, Jordan-Elbridge, Union Springs and Skaneateles school districts, plus students from a BOCES class, rotated through the facilities throughout the day. 

Dickman, Oakwood and Cayuga Milk Ingredients sponsored the event, along with the agricultural credit business Farm Credit East and seed company Mycogen Seeds. Julia Smith, the agricultural initiatives coordinator for Cayuga Community College and the event's organizer, said loan officers with Farm Credit East acted as tour guides during the day, and Art Graves, an agronomist with Mycogen, talked about soil and nutrient management at Oakwood. 

Smith said she feels many students don't realize how big a role agriculture plays in their lives. Because they don't know how their food reaches their plate, she said, "they can't even begin to understand the number of really fulfilling careers that are available in agriculture." Smith said subjects such as math, science and communication are all applied in the industry, even though students may not realize it. One of the reasons the career day was held, Smith continued, was to help interested students develop a passion for agriculture and maybe find their niche in the field.

The industry encompasses far more than farming: Smith said only a small percentage of people in agriculture are actual farmers. The industry has struggled to shake the stereotypical image of "the farmer in a straw hat chewing on a piece of straw," she continued, despite the sophisticated technology used in agriculture. Many facilities employ technologies that measure a cow's daily milk production, count the amount of steps it takes every day and keep detailed health records for their animals, Smith said.

Smith praised the different entities in the agricultural field who participated in the career day.

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"I think all these organizations really recognize the need to do outreach for students, and (are) really coming together to work toward a common goal," she said. "I think that's always the great thing about this, when you get a lot of people with a common passion sitting at the table together really trying to do some great outreach, and we really saw that come together here today."

At Dickman, employee Dessa Hart and production manager Ellen Brayer ran a workshop in which a small group of students from Moravia, Jordan-Elbridge and Southern Cayuga placed plants into pots. As the students listened, Danielle Lynch-Jacobson, a living environment teacher for Moravia High School, said 12 of its students came to the career day, though only three were in her group at Dickman. She said that while her class covers some of the topics presented in the workshops, the stations provided firsthand examples for students.

"We have many students that are looking to get into careers in farming," she said. "We decided to take ninth-graders because they're young, still figuring out their careers and we just thought it would be a great opportunity for them to look into farming."

Later, plant maintenance manager Deborah VanArsdale and seeder Melanie Rowe walked those same students through the plant maintenance workshop. At one point, VanArsdale showed Moravia student Eli Burke the proper place to pinch one of the plants. Later, as VanArsdale spoke, Eli and Julia Anderson took the initiative to cut more plants without help.

Head plant grower Doug Mead and employee Dee Keehfus went over the bug workshop. At one point, a student accidentally discharged a device used to spread a substance the bugs attach themselves to, making it easier to disperse the bugs to the plants. The product hit the pants of another student, causing everyone in the area, including the two students, to laugh.

Mead said after the workshop that he was glad students were at the career day. He and Keehfus said they were extremely impressed with Donna, and felt they succeeded if the stations attracted even just one student to agriculture. 

Garrett Miller, dairy manager for Oakwood, said later in the day that he was impressed by the students' interest in the field. He said he asked students questions related to the previous station that were also relevant to his station, and they quickly responded with the correct answers. He said both education and passion are vital when entering agriculture.

"It was overall rewarding and I feel very proud of the job that our team did on the farm of presenting what we do on a daily basis to the students and to the public and get them excited about careers or agriculture," Miller said.

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.