DIXON – The seeds of an agriculture program are being planted at Dixon High School in the fall through Sauk Valley Community College.
The overarching goal is to bring back an ag program to DHS for the first time in about 3 decades, along with an FFA chapter, but the start of that comes in the form of a 4-credit, online course on ag issues.
"This is a big step," DHS Principal Mike Grady said during an informational meeting Wednesday. "It's going to show our students what agriculture is."
Sauk and the school district plan to enter into an agreement to offer the course, which will cover a broad spectrum of agriculture issues and also will be available to community members.
Ryan Anderson, professor and head of the college's agriculture program that launched last fall, said Sauk is also working on another agreement to share the district's 73.5 acres at 1501 Brinton Ave. that it bought for $1 million in July.
Sauk's ag students will create business plans on how best to use crop space at the property, and those plans will go to the college and school boards for approval.
The college's ag program started out with 13 students and has doubled this semester. Employers within a 35-mile radius are looking to fill 50 to 75 agriculture-related positions, and about a dozen companies want to hire 30 interns, Anderson said.
They're also working on adding an associate degree in agriculture mechanics in the fall, and four area companies have 65 jobs waiting for students, he said.
Ag education opens the door to a multitude of career pathways with job demand like agronomy, different sciences, horticulture, conservation, finance, crop advisers, veterinarians, and the list goes on, Lee County Farm Bureau Manager Danelle Burrs said.
"Agriculture is way more than just farming," she said.
The online course will allow students to build a foundation of ag knowledge and opportunities that they have been missing and that other schools are offering, she said.
Five Northern Illinois school districts have added an agriculture program in the past 5 years, including Sterling and Morrison, as well as two community colleges, incuding Sauk, Burrs said.
"This is us kind of dipping our toe in and seeing where it's going to grow and blossom," Superintendent Margo Empen said.
Josie Willett, a 2012 DHS graduate who farms with her family in Lee County and is a member of the Young Leaders Committee of the Lee County Farm Bureau, said when she was studying agribusiness at University of Wisconsin Plateville, she wished she had the same agriculture foundations as her classmates.
Not only for the basics, but she said high school ag programs give students networking opportunities with area companies that can lead to internships and jobs.
"It's going to be very beneficial for the students and the community," she said.
Call Dixon High School at 815-284-7723 or Sauk Valley Community College at 815-288-5511 for more information on the Ag Issues online course to be offered in the fall for community members and DHS students.