Southwest Open School and the Montezuma Land Conservancy have teamed up to give students hands-on learning experience in agriculture.
The agriculture immersion program, in its first year, is funded by the Montezuma Inspire Coalition for three years.
Jay Loschert, the Montezuma Land Conservancy’s outreach and education coordinator, said he hopes the students who complete the program this year will return next year as leaders and counselors.
The students work Monday through Thursday in the SWOS school garden and at Fozzie’s Farm, learning job skills and learning about local agriculture.
Loschert also planned field trips to give the students a sense of the diversity of production. During the six-week program, the students have visited many local farms to learn how each operates.
The students were required to commit to four weeks of the program. Those four weeks ended on Thursday with a trip to Shiprock, New Mexico. Loschert said he expects about nine of the 11 students to continue working in July.
“Another goal was to give them a sense of what agriculture is all about in our community,” Loschert said. “We have dealt a lot with prairie dogs, weeds, water, and we have focused a lot on water because of the drought this year and making sure we manage our water efficiently, so they have become kind of experts in that department.”
Loschert said he has been impressed by the students’ growth and lack of complaining through the days of farm work.
“I chose to do this for mainly for the credit because I really want to diversify my skill set so I can be more employable,” said Christian Postiglione, 17.
Marissa Moore, 18, said she has enjoyed learning how irrigation systems work and how to manage and maintain them.
Loschert said the Montezuma Land Conservancy chose to work with SWOS students in the “pilot year” of the program because of their experience in experiential learning.
“We have been doing a lot of hard work, but it is learning by doing, and that is the way everybody learns best. And their school does a great job of making sure that is a top priority,” Loschert said.
The students will work through July 19 and receive school credit and $100 per week for participating in the program.
“What I really like about all of this is that we are not just doing random acts of manual labor,” Jacob Conner, 16, said. “We are actually working toward something – our future not only us, but for the future generations – and that really keeps me happy about what I am doing.”
In an email to The Journal, Loschert reached out to local farms and ranches to host the students.
“I am reaching out to offer free labor in exchange for some education about what coalition members do on their farms and ranches,” Loschert wrote. “If there is a time or date that you would be willing to host our crew, provide a short tour and talk a bit about your business, we would love to pay a visit and help with tasks that you need done.”
Loschert asked interested farmers or ranchers to call him at 970-799-1475 to set up the visit.