UNION GROVE — Inside Union Grove High School’s new agriculture building is a near-menagerie of animals and a greenhouse literally filled with plants. All the living things inside the building are cared for by students in the school’s extremely popular agriculture classes.
This year, the first for agriculture classes at Union Grove in more than 50 years, there were 388 enrolled in the classes. So far 556 have signed up for next year, prompting the district to hire another teacher.
So far, the building, which opened to students last fall, has housed calves, chicks, rabbits and a pig. The building, funded with borrowing approved in a 2017 referendum, features two 1,500-square-foot classrooms, a 1,600-square-foot small-animal lab and an attached 2,400-square-foot greenhouse. Carrie Jacobs, agriculture education instructor and Future Farmers of America organization adviser at Union Grove High, hopes to soon bring in a lamb and some goats.
A three-month old pig, Bronco, named no doubt for the school’s team name, was finishing up her time at the school last week.
Connor Esch, a junior at UGHS and the school’s FFA president, has shown pigs at the Racine County Fair for years. But he said it’s cool for him to see students in his large-animal science class who do not have a background in farming get comfortable with the animals.
“She (Bronco) plays a big role in getting some hands-on type of learning right now,” Esch said. “Along with learning about large animals like this, it’s also kind of like a therapy kind of thing for students. If you’re having a bad day you can come out and pet the pig.”
A basketball that Bronco can nose around her enclosure helps keep her occupied, and she is in the habit of flopping on her side to allow students to rub her stomach.
The school’s small-animal care class studies the developmental stages the chicks go through from incubating in the egg to after they hatch.
The students watch the chicks as they develop inside the egg through a process called “candling.”
Candling means putting a bright light at the bottom of an egg. If it’s infertile, the whole egg will glow. A developing embryo appears as a dark mass.
“Over time we want to see that mass grow and so towards the end of the hatching experience that egg should not glow at all, it should be a solid mass inside the egg,” Jacobs said.
The hatching process takes around 24 hours, and Jacobs said the students were not the most patient, wanting to help the chicks along. She advised them to let the process unfold naturally.
The chicks are not the only animals to come into the world in the agriculture building.
Last week, one of the six rabbits housed in the building gave birth to seven babies, called kits.
UGHS junior Adriana DeYong has been working with rabbits since she was 7, but was still surprised at the number of kits in the litter. A Holland lop like “Bubbles” typically has three to four kits at a time.
“This is my first huge litter out of a small rabbit,” DeYong said. “So that was cool to see.”
Also in the agriculture building, is the school’s aquaponics system. Aquaponics combines both aquaculture — the farming of fish — and hydroponics — the growing of plants without soil, in a symbiotic system.
Union Grove’s system has a tank with eight koi in it. Students feed the fish, and their waste fertilizes the water, which flows into tanks under the plants. The plants clean the water, and it goes back to the fish, so the water is constantly recycled.
Using this system students are growing tomato, cucumber and lettuce plants from seed.
Esch said he did not know this sort of system existed before he began working with it at school.
“I’ve really learned about the recycling process,” Esch said. “I just thought this is the coolest thing ever.”
The new greenhouse adjoining the agriculture building is packed with plants. Students began growing cilantro in January and have now branched out to various other sorts of plants including petunias, marigold and begonias.
Students have planted from both seeds and plugs, and propagate the plants, which means splitting off a portion of the plant and replanting it. In this way the students can double the amount of plants they have.
Students in Intro to Horticulture water the plants, remove dead leaves, take off the flowers to help the plant grow bigger.
Junior Anastacia Tisdale said she is excited to take the class. Since she’s learned to plant from seed, she’s now growing her own plants at home, including zinias, cilantro, petunias and marigolds.
Kelsey Henderson, also a junior, said they take photos each week to mark the growth of the plants.
“It’s going to be really rewarding once these are all in really full bloom and we have a plant sale to help our school,” Hendersons said.
The plant sale at the greenhouse is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Wednesday, May 8. It is tentatively set to continue after school on May 9-10 and during the day on Saturday, May 11.
The money from the plant sale will go back into buying new plants for next year and to fund FFA leadership conferences and other opportunities for the students.
“The kids have open-arm embraced this whole program,” Jacobs said. “Our numbers for next year are outrageous. It’s really exciting just to see that the school is as passionate about it as I am.”
“The kids have open-arm embraced this whole program. Our numbers for next year are outrageous. It’s really exciting just to see that the school is as passionate about it as I am.” Carrie Jacobs, agriculture education instructor and FFA adviser at Union Grove High