By Ivory Harlow
The Hocking County Farm Bureau and Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Center for Cooperatives partnered to create an innovative online experience for high school students to discover and explore careers in agricultural cooperatives.
The virtual experience launched in May 2021. It is accessible through a website called Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience Online. The website features innovative and exciting ag co-op career content that teachers can easily build into classroom learning during the 2021 school year and beyond. The open-access format also allows students to visit the website outside of class to learn from leaders in the agricultural industry.
The virtual program is free and available to all educators and students, but was designed to speak the unique challenges students face in rural Appalachian counties. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, only 9.8% of Appalachian residents age 25 to 64 obtain an associate’s degree and 21.8% of residents in central Appalachia obtain a bachelor’s degree. The state average is 32.9%. The unemployment rate in the region is a full point higher than state average. According to the 2019 Census, 15.8% of families in central Appalachia live in poverty.
“YCLE helps students see the many career paths available to them in Ohio’s food and agricultural sector, understand the opportunities for educational pathways to those careers, and begin building a network of leaders and educators to help them along those paths,” said Hannah Scott, program manager CFAES Center for Cooperatives. “Many will be the first generation in their family to pursue higher education. The Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience Online aims to remove physical and psychological barriers to continuing education.”
The Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience was made possible through a Youth Pathways Grant from the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation. The original project was planned as an immersive, in-person two-day experience with classroom components. Students would visit Ohio State’s Columbus campus to experience college-style learning, discover educational and career paths in agriculture, connect with leaders and engage in hands-on leadership and team-building activities. The trip would also include tours of agricultural cooperative businesses in the state.
“When COVID-19 lockdowns made the in-person experience impossible, the Hocking County Farm Bureau and Center for Cooperatives transformed the Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience to a bigger, better and more impactful virtual experience!” said Ivory Harlow, Organization Director for Hocking County Farm Bureau.
Partners anticipate creating hybrid in-person and online YCLE opportunities for students in the future. The virtual program is online at go.osu.edu/ycle. Curriculum includes co-op tours and talks with Heritage Cooperative, Nationwide and Casa Nueva. Video interviews feature farmer leaders. Faculty and educators from the Ohio State University lead hands-on activities in STEM: tomato grafting and fruit DNA extraction, as well as career exploration activities and leadership activities. Students can take virtual tours of Ohio State University ag campuses. A full curriculum of cooperative education is available. Educators can both access the free online materials and request hard copy workbooks and supplies for hands-on activities at no cost while supplies last.
“This activity has allowed my students to see that there is opportunity outside of Adams County and that a college degree is attainable,” said Luke Rhonemus, Ohio Valley CTC Agriculture Business Management instructor. “These students have gained valuable insight on how cooperatives function. These experiences have created opportunities and avenues for students to make connections for future careers in agriculture as well.”
For more information about the Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ohio Farm Bureau’s mission is working together for Ohio farmers to advance agriculture and strengthen our communities. Learn more at ofbf.org.