Main Street in Medford looks like any other rural Wisconsin community. It’s home to the Taylor County Courthouse and is surrounded by farm country. So, maybe it’s not surprise that when you walk into Lisa Kopp’s class at Medford High School, you’ll find baby chickens, a rabbit and possibly other farm animals.
What is surprising is that Lisa Kopp never grew up on a farm. She is the agriculture teacher and most of her students didn’t grow up on a farm either. Kopp says for every class she has with 30 students, only two to three kids are still living on a production farm. Putting students back on the farm is just steps away from her traditional classroom.
Across the parking lot from Medford High School, you’ll find an old dairy barn with chickens, a calf, pig, sheep, a rabbit, and one cat. It’s the “school barn” and a place where students can come to learn what it takes to be a farmer. Kopp said, “If we expect farmers to continue in this next generation, we need to teach them. We need to show them what tasks literally need to be done… to be that farmer.” In the barn, students are responsible for feeding, cleaning, and health care and are graded on how well they perform their chores. That’s part of their class expectations, that they wear rubber boots, and they get in there and use a pitchfork, and they feed them, they water them, and they move them around, and they lead them.
It’s a lesson these rural students aren’t getting at home, or anywhere else. This project is extremely unique. In the fact, there are not a lot of schools – high schools- that have a farm and it’s owned by the district. As the number of Wisconsin farms continues to dwindle, Kopp sees this hands-on classroom becoming all the more important. “We consume vegetables. We consume meat, and do you know where your meat is coming from? We need to show the students that, hey, some of these tasks: raising sheep, raising pork, raising beef cattle, you know you can do on a small scale at home,” Kopp said. She believes there are a lot of life lessons that can be learned from a farm setting and she’s trying to replicate that farm setting here, in the school farm.
Kopp is on a mission to expand the program and her efforts are paying off. The Medford School District just built a new barn next to the old barn where Kopp’s traditional classroom will be housed and there is already talk of expansion. The number of students is increasing and another ag teacher was hired. Kopp sees it as securing the future of farming and the community has rallied around her dream. Kopp said, “It is for our next generation and if we don’t show them how to do these things, they’re not going to do it.”