Students go ‘down on the farm’

Mirror photo by Walt Frank Melissa Laratonda, owner of Broken Wheel Ranch, Hollidaysburg, shows off her horse, Gypsy Rose, during Agriculture Career Day at Kulp Family Dairy on Tuesday.

Melissa Laratonda, owner of Broken Wheel Ranch, Hollidaysburg, shows off her horse, Gypsy Rose, during Agriculture Career Day at Kulp Family Dairy on Tuesday. Mirror photo by Walt Frank

MARTINSBURG — Blair County seventh-grade students are spending part of their day “down on the farm.”

About 1,400 students from the county’s seven public school districts are visiting Kulp Family Dairy during Altoona-Blair County Development Corp.’s third annual Agriculture Career Day.

Students from Hollidays­burg, Williamsburg, Claysburg-Kimmel, Spring Cove and Bellwood-Antis were in attendance on Tuesday, while Altoona and Tyrone students will visit the farm today.

Dave Hileman of Hilecrest Farms in Sinking Valley, an ABCD Corp. agriculture committee member, originally got the idea for the event from friends in Wisconsin.

The event focuses on a multitude of careers in the agriculture industry. The 14 presenter stations are broken down into four categories: animals, crops, management and environmental.

Hileman said the event has three goals.

“We want students to be exposed to the numerous occupations, careers and vocations that are available in the agricultural field. Agriculture is becoming more technical. You can see the technical aspect of what goes on on farms today is different than their grandparents’ farm. We also want teachers and administrators and guidance counselors to be exposed to a well-run farming business and understand the careers that are available,” Hileman said. “We want them (students) to understand you don’t have up grow up on a farm to have a good career in the agricultural field.”

Hileman hopes the event pays dividends down the road.

“If we can spark an interest in young people at this event, it may influence some bright young minds that agriculture is pretty good,” Hileman said.

Phil Kulp, a partner in Kulp Family Dairy LLC, has hosted the event each year.

“We do this to help educate the next generation that have very limited exposure to agriculture about the importance of American agriculture. We want to tell kids there are career opportunities in the agricultural field,” Kulp said.

Joel Wineland, general manager of West Central Equipment LLC, was hoping to attract future employees.

“This is like a job fair at a very young age. … We are recruiting. Our biggest challenge is finding qualified people. We are always advertising for parts and sales people and technicians. It is a learning experience. It takes about seven years to train our technicians. We need people who can work on a lawn mower today and a combine tomorrow,” said Wineland, who sells farm equipment.

Terry Woodring, owner of Diamond Lane Farm, which focuses on hosting weddings, birthday parties, reunions and company picnics as well as breeding, raising and selling Percheron draft horses, has been a presenter all three years.

“We are trying to encourage future horse breeders,” he said.

“Anything you choose takes focus, dedication and hard work,” Woodring told the students.

Melissa Laratonda, owner of Broken Wheel Ranch, Hollidaysburg, encouraged students to consider boarding and training horses.

She brought along Gypsy Rose, a Gypsy Vanner horse. The breed is very affectionate.

“This is a breed out of Ireland. She follows me around. She doesn’t know she is a horse; she thinks she is a dog,” Laratonda said.

Hileman said the committee invited guests such as the Center for Dairy Excellence to observe the event.

“We’ve been trying to market it to other communities outside Blair County this year to encourage others to do something similar,” Hileman said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.