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Sustainable Agriculture

Ag Education, Community Development Make Good Partners in Texas

It’s a familiar tale for countless rural towns across America: Communities with agricultural roots are losing their farms and ranches, and the children of farmers are studying anything but farming. But that’s not the story in Canutillo, TX, where community leaders expect that a proposed agronomics center focusing on youth education also will rejuvenate the economy.

Partly supported by a SARE community innovation grant, Canutillo School District officials set out to garner support for a state-of-the-art center that would provide education for ag students and boost the local economy with horse stables, a show arena, and more.

The SARE grant helped the new Sustainable Texas Agriculture Research (STAR) group test the center concept in five communities and provided a crucial jumpstart for the project, said Gayla Kessinger, the school district’s coordinator for career and technology education. In the information sessions, the group gathered ideas for how to sustain agriculture in their area and prioritized topics for the $4 million center. Their ideas were written into star ’s economic development plan.

“We can’t let ag die in our schools, that was the impetus to develop this,” said Kessinger, who laments that just three schools in El Paso County offer agricultural education. “We believe it is going to be the star of the Southwest.”

The so-called Agronomics Center on the Rio Grande would highlight one of the most fertile valleys in the world. “Our valley has been compared to the Nile,” said Orlando Flores, a community and economic development specialist with Texas A&M Extension involved with STAR, pointing out the area’s ideal conditions for growing pecans and pima cotton. “We’re contenders in agriculture, but the city is growing rapidly.”

STAR envisions providing a full curriculum to agricultural students in western Texas, eastern New Mexico, and even Mexico, thanks to Canutillo’s tri-corner location. Center planners led by the school superintendent picture a mix of academic and vocational classes in subjects like horticulture, animal science, and natural resource management. The arena would be complemented by classrooms, labs, animal housing, and a greenhouse.


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