By MAGGIE MCMURRAY
Moapa Valley Progress
There is only one high school Agriculture Farm in the entire state of Nevada and the students at Moapa Valley High School are very lucky to call it their own.
The land for the farm, located along Moapa Valley Blvd, was purchased from Cleo Whitney in 1957 by Clark County School District. The first farm manager was Mark Stewart, who ran the farm until Glen Hardy took over in 1959. Hardy ran it for the next 10 years before turning it over to prosper under the careful guardianship of Craig Grow, who stayed for the next 34 years.
The farm is currently being expertly managed by Kevin O’Toole, who took over when Grow retired in 2002. O’Toole has been running the farm for the last 15 years, working in partnership with his wife, Denise, who is the Ag Instructor and FFA advisor at Moapa Valley High School.
Hardy described some of the events of the early years that helped contribute to the great educational resource the farm has become today.
“We had a banquet every spring and one year we invited CCSD trustee Lyle Burkholder to our banquet,” Hardy said. “It was the year John Robison was FFA president and he did such a great job at the banquet that Burkholder came up to me afterward. He said that he was so impressed with the quality of the youth in FFA that he wondered how he could help the farm.”
After that, Burkholder came to Moapa Valley and met with Hardy several times, helping to work out a budget that would help fund the farm.
“He knew more about budgets than I even knew existed,” Hardy said, laughing.
Between the two of them, they were able to work out a budget and funding for the farm that allowed the farm to grow and prosper. For many years the farm cultivated thousands of trees, shrubs, and plants that CCSD used to landscape their new buildings.
Burkholder was not the only early benefactor that helped the farm become established. Hardy said that Frank Taylor, who then owned a lot of property in Warm Springs, also came forward to help the farm get started.
“Taylor had a lot of money and he believed in FFA and wanted to help,” Hardy recalled. “He bought and donated our first 20 cows and a bull to go along with them. Most of that first batch were Charolais, but over the years he also donated some Hereford, some Angus, and whatever else we needed. He was very generous and a great contributor to what we have today.”
Today the 40-acre farm sports a self-supporting cow-calf operation that runs about 20 head of Angus cattle. All but four calves are sold every year with the money going back into the program. The remaining four are raised, fed out and sold for food, with the proceeds of one steer going to support the high school culinary program, two steers going to the FFA program, and the fourth steer going to pay for the feed costs of the first three.
In addition to the cattle, the farm also sports a hydroponic greenhouse, several shade houses, outside gardens, chickens and egg production, grapes, a pomegranate and fruit tree orchard, several acres of hay, and vast fields of pumpkins, melons, squash, and other vegetables depending on the season.
Labor is provided by farm manager Kevin O’Toole and students in the MVHS Ag programs. In addition, the Ag Farm is a one of the major employers of youth during the summer months, hiring several kids from the ag program every summer to harvest the hay, fix machinery, and keep things running until school starts again.
The Ag program provides a different method of learning that appeals to many students. Students that stay in the program for three years are eligible for a number of college credits, depending on whether they are in the Ag Science track or Ag Mechanics track.
Many students find that the combination of classroom learning and hands-on experience suits them better than classes that rely solely on classroom learning.
“I like coming to the farm a lot better than being in my other classes because I’m up and moving around and learning instead of just sitting in class,” said freshman Elizabeth Williams.
Classmate Lizzy Jorgensen agreed. “I actually really like the gardening and being outside so I’m really loving it,” she said.
“I took this class because I’ve never really had experience with this kind of stuff,” said freshman Ashley James. “I thought it would be fun and it is. I like getting outside and learning practical skills that I can use in real life.”
In addition to their studies, students are able to take part in leadership activities. They help with the annual fall field trips that see almost a thousand CCSD students throughout the district coming to the farm to learn about agriculture. The field trips stations are completely staffed by students who love sharing their knowledge and love of agriculture with many kids who have never been outside the city limits of Las Vegas.
Junior Makae Pulsipher is on her third year in the program. “My favorite part has been the 2nd grade field trips because we get to show the kids the ins-and-outs of Ag and why we love it,” she said. “For some of these kids, it is the first time they’ve ever seen a cow.”
Ag instructor Denise O’Toole is understandably proud of the farm and the positive experience it provides. “This is a great experience for our students,” she said. “We get kids out here on field trips who have no idea where their food comes from. They’ve never smelled hay. Our students see this and remember how lucky they are to live here, to know where their food comes from and how to grow it, and the importance that Ag plays in our daily lives today and into the future.”
For more information on how to get involved with the MVHS Ag program, contact O’Toole at firstname.lastname@example.org.