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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