Omaha Students and Teachers Celebrate with Rural Families

This story begins with two machine shed lights. When Del Ficke was growing up on a farm outside Pleasant Dale and Kerry Hoffschneider on a farm by York, they had something in common.

“When Del and I met, we discovered we had similar fathers,” Hoffschneider said. “And, we both found out we would each wait from our bedroom windows on the farm for our fathers, the late Kenneth Ficke and my dad, Dean Heine, to come inside at night. Yes, those machine shed lights symbolized a lot for us on the farm – hard work, dedication and a commitment to family.”

It’s fitting, years later, that the Ficke Cattle Company machine shed, glowing with light under a cool, starry night in Nebraska, was the setting for a very special celebration recently. On Sept. 13, 10 students and nine teachers from the Omaha Bryan High School Urban Ag Academy traveled west of Omaha to meet some of their neighbors who care deeply about them and feeding the world.

“We just decided to make a big deal out of their visit,” Hoffschneider said. “Because these urban students are a big deal. We have to start thinking differently about the future of agriculture and feeding the world. We can’t be status quo and we must work together with our neighbors everywhere. Sometimes, we in agriculture, are our own worst enemy, and we’ve got to stop that or we’re not going to be in business anymore, at least not the way that’s beneficial to building rural communities.”


The day began at DuPont Pioneer, where Darin Doerr – production location manager for their York seed facility – led the tour and exposed students to the diverse careers that exist in the seed business.

“We are producing seed here that is being planted across the globe. We need young people who have a passion for science and agriculture to come back to places like York County and use their knowledge and education at home,” Doerr said.

Triple S Farms was the next stop where students were given a peek into the pork industry.

Stuart Spader told the attentive group, “Life doesn’t stop west of Omaha. You are the future. You are so smart and have access to so many educational resources. Nebraska is a great place to live, a wonderful place, and we want you back here.”

“We need to remember livestock is a rural development opportunity,” Ficke said. “There are many ways to build community around the livestock sector if we can be open-minded. We need everyone, the best and brightest breeders in the industry, crop production in a variety of forms, the arts and information technology. If we aren’t diverse in the rural mindset and landscape, we’ll miss a very creative, healthy future that could be designed out here.”

Students were also able to hear from Ryan Hoffschneider, a partner in Orville Hoffschneider and Sons outside of Waco. Ryan told the group about white corn production and touched on the cattle feeding business. Mostly, the former FFA member himself said, “Don’t give up and don’t be afraid to call us up again or come visit. We’d really like to have you back out to the farm.”


The day concluded with the glow of the machine shed light at Del and Brenda Ficke’s place where 130 Nebraska neighbors came together to hear the Urban Ag Academy’s story and also some inspiration from another young rural professional named Garry Clark, who is now serving as director of the Cuming County Development Corporation. Clark, like the students who visited, didn’t grow up on a farm, but grew to have a passion for agriculture and rural development.

“For a portion of my childhood I was homeless. I grew up in Washington, D.C., in public housing. There were many times that school lunch was the only meal I had that day. Those school meals were the saving grace for us,” Clark said. “I cannot compare myself exactly with people in other countries who are starving to death. But, I do know how it feels to be hungry. I am so thankful to have moved to a place where I have learned the importance of agriculture and its part in the circle of all of our lives.”


“My passion is so big now,” said academy student Austin Martinez, “I now know there is so much more I could do, more than I had dreamed of before.”

“I want to be a chemist,” said Bryan FFA president Reyna Quintana, “Ever since I read in a science magazine they could potentially make a square tomato one day, I’ve wanted to help make that happen. I want to help people have more nutritious food in the future.”The ag academy and FFA have given us a community, a family in our school that has changed our school experience for the better,” said academy student Megan Shaw who dreams of a future that would include ranching and animal agriculture.

“Every time we got back on the bus the students said, ‘This is just so cool.’ They are so excited to go and tell their classmates about this experience,” said Channing Reha the new academy ag instructor who took the reins after Ashton Meints set the stage for the program.

“Your career choice is often your lifestyle choice,” said school counselor Randy Schultz, “If you cannot actually see and touch the opportunities out there, you won’t know if you want to pursue them.”

“One of our primary goals in the Urban Agriculture Academy is to expose students to a variety of careers. This event gave us a great opportunity to show our students future career opportunities,” said Rick Painter who serves as a school guidance counselor and coordinator of the academy program.

“When I look back to my own childhood growing up in a farming community in New Mexico, these experiences shape lives,” said Robert Aranda, Bryan High School principal. “These experiences must have true meaning for our students and teachers. This really had meaning for all of us.”

“There is no way in one day we could show these students all of agriculture, but it’s a start,” said Ficke. “We each have a ‘machine shed light’ story that has inspired us along the way. All we’re encouraging our neighbors to do is share what really matters to them with the next generation.”


The Bryan High School Urban Ag Academy is based on national standards from the National Career Academy Coalition.

At Bryan, they believe an academy is a group of students who are cohorted into their classes with the curriculum for the Career and Technology Education courses integrated into each class. The Urban Agriculture and Natural Resources Career Academy (UANRCA) is designed for youth in their sophomore year.

Students are interviewed their freshman year and those who are accepted take Introduction to Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Agriculture English, Agriculture Geography and Agriculture Economics.

Also, in order for all students to participate in the UANRCA they have included a Special Education teacher who co-teaches courses.

Each year they will add 60 students into the program starting their sophomore year, recruiting students during their freshman year to see about their interest into the program. By the school year 2014-2015, there will be approximately 180 students in the academy.

Recruitment begins during freshman classes targeting a reflection of the school demographics and also those students who are not engaged or connected with other school programming.

The Bryan High School Urban Agriculture and Natural Resources Academy would like to build a greenhouse to teach students the growing process. Their goal for the greenhouse is to grow produce to give back to the families of Bryan High School, use in our culinary classes and donate to the food bank for the back pack program. Bryan High School has about 1,680 students with 13 portables. The facility was built for 1,200 students.

Additional classroom space would allow students to take part in a variety of hands-on activities to bring learning to life. Currently the agriculture teacher shares a classroom with other science teachers.

This school year, the agriculture teacher has four different classrooms to teach in. This makes it virtually impossible to set up and complete experiments in class. This past year, students had to conduct some of the experiments in the teachers plan area due to lack of classroom space.

For more information contact:

Rick Painter
Cell Phone: 402-212-9863
Address & School Phone:
Bryan High School
4700 Giles Road
Omaha, NE 68157

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