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A place of their own

New barn gives California High School students room to raise pigs

Interest in agriculture is strong at Missouri’s California R-1 High School. The numbers tell the story. Out of the school’s 430 students, 310 are enrolled in FFA and ag education classes this year.

However, many of those students don’t live on farms or have a place to raise their own animals. That’s why the school has dedicated space and resources to building facilities that provide those opportunities.

StudentsCALIffaThe newest addition to California R-1 High School’s agriculture campus is a 30-x-30-foot swine barn. Freshman agriculture students, from left, Emily Burger, Cadence Reed and Izzy Hulsey are showing pigs for the first time this year. The new swine barn allows them to house their animals on campus since they don’t have a place to keep them at home. Hulsey’s gilt named “Porky” is one of the barn’s residents.“I believe our program is successful because we have kids who are very goal-driven and know they’re going to get hands-on learning here that they can’t get anywhere else,” said Gary Reichel, FFA adviser and agriculture instructor. “We have a shop where kids can do drafting and engineering. We have our greenhouses where they can grow plants. We have a livestock facility where we raise sheep, chickens and cattle.

These facilities allow students to have supervised agriculture experience projects on campus and take the classroom into the real world.”
The latest addition is a 30-x-30-foot swine barn equipped with 10 pens for students to house their show pig projects. Completed last summer, the facility was built with help from a $5,000 grant from the MFA Incorporated Charitable Foundation and matching funds from CoBank’s Sharing Success program.

“We were so blessed to get these grants,” Reichel said. “The community is what makes this agriculture program run. Without support from agribusinesses like MFA, none of this could be built. And if they support us while these kids are in school, we hope we can support them with employees in the future.”

The new barn makes it possible for students such as freshman FFA member Cadence Reed to show pigs for the first time. She acquired a Duroc named “Tomato” about two months ago and plans to exhibit her at surrounding county fairs and possibly the Missouri State Fair this year.

“We live out in the country, but our neighborhood has an HOA (homeowners association), and we aren’t allowed to have animals on the land,” Reed said. “I really love how our school provides this barn, because without it, I wouldn’t be able to raise pigs.”
Fellow freshman and FFA member Emily Burger is also keeping her crossbred barrow, “Moon Pie,” in the school’s barn.

“As a kid, I used to help my babysitter raise pigs, and I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I thought it’d be fun to show pigs myself, and this is a great opportunity to get back into it. We recently moved out to the country, but we don’t have any place we can keep pigs, so this barn gives me a way to still participate in the project.”

Likewise, Izzy Hulsey, also a freshman, is showing pigs for the first time this year, thanks in part to the new swine barn. She said the experience is strengthening her love for agriculture and FFA.

“FFA is one of my favorite clubs because it’s a community where we all have the same interests and can talk about it openly,” Hulsey said. “I feel like a big reason we have such a good program at our school is because of all the hands-on opportunities we have here.”
Such enthusiasm for learning and camaraderie is what agriculture education is all about, Reichel added.

“Our students are learning more than just how to raise animals,” he said. “They’re learning the responsibility of completing a project from start to finish and how to work together to reach their goals. They can come away with something they’ve never done before with a sense of accomplishment and work ethic that will help them succeed in the future.”

The MFA Incorporated Charitable Foundation’s mission is to assist rural communities in MFA’s trade area by supporting organizations that are dedicated to education, youth, solving community problems and improving quality of life. For more information on grant opportunities, visit online at


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