By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau: No, that’s not a misspelled word in the headline. Yesterday afternoon at Rocker 7 Farm Patch I had a hands on "Agucation," a hands on education experience with agriculture as the focus. They’re doing it exactly right as the team spearheading the program has two that have agriculture education backgrounds and one that has a communication and marketing background.
Arizona Farm Bureau's Intern, Justen Ollendick, and I went out to Buckeye yesterday to drop off some coloring books. While there, we were given the farm tour (more to come on this story later).
The Rocker 7 Farm Patch will tell you it’s a “fun, family farm experience.” It certainly is that and more. Anyone participating in the Farm Patch’s educational program will walk away more profoundly knowledgeable about Arizona agriculture than ever before and it’s because of the brain trust of three individuals: Brandan and Katie Leister and Brody McGuire, all Farm Bureau members.
Rocker 7 Farm Patch Executive Director Brody McGuire takes me through one of his educational segments he gives to children on corn, while standing in their corn maze.
For a quick backgrounder, Brandon Leister’s family’s Rocker 7 Brand has been registered in Arizona for more than 60 years, and used by the Leister family in Arizona agriculture for five generations. They’re celebrating “the heritage of their family commitment to agriculture” and “continuing the legacy of the Rocker 7 brand in our family farming operation:” Rocker 7 Farms, and now their family farm experience, Rocker 7 Farm Patch, run by Brody McGuire.
The Rocker 7 Farm Patch’s dedication to educating youth and adults about agriculture is highlighted by the fact that Brody completed his Bachelor degree in agricultural education from the University of Arizona in 2011, and has spent the past three years as an agricultural educator at Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised with this since Brandon’s educational background and focus is similar. He has his master’s degree from the University of Arizona in agriculture education, and taught as an Ag science teacher/FFA Advisor at Buckeye Union High School.
The Patch opened this fall. “If you’d seen the place at the end of August you’d never have believed we’d be ready in time since where the Patch stands today was a farmyard full of equipment in June,” said Brandon Leister. “Hopefully one thing we want to stand out is our commitment to agriculture education; it’s important for us that the entire experience not come off as some ag carnival.”
It certainly didn’t for me. What a visitor like myself discovered is a very thought-out and educationally-focused family farm experience for the public. I’ve never seen something so carefully designed and plotted out from the educational barn to the tractor tours and even Katie’s brainchild of the straw tables and chairs covered in red and white checkered table cloths.
In fact Brandon is adamant to stress that the Patch is “Katie’s baby.” Brandon’s wife, Katie, is an agriculture economics, communication and marketing major from Texas A&M, obtaining her masters in agro-business. “This was really Katie’s idea from the beginning. We finally decided about a year ago if we were going to do it we had to hire a talented, young person, like Brody, to run it since we’re consumed by the main farm business.”
Brandon and Katie are also quick to stress how much valuable and supportive insights they obtained from farm families like Buckelew Farms, one of Arizona’s premiere U-Pick and agritainment farms in Tucson. Plus, “The Duncan family has been extremely helpful offering advice and feedback too,” added Katie and Brandon. The young couple stress they don’t feel like they could have done it without the expertise and insights of some of these farm families.
So after piecing it all together, beginning the building project including moving a Farmyard-full of equipment out, and working all summer the Patch is now fully operational with a full week’s worth of tours just completed. “Brody developed the curriculum for all the field trips and tied them in to state standards.”
“We’d wanted to do this for several years,” explained Katie. “But at the time, we really didn’t have a place. We decided we needed more diversification as a business too. And, with Brandon and Brody being both teachers, education is at the forefront at our mission statement.”
Don't forget to check out times and location at www.rocker7farmpatch.com.
And while they’ll be the first to tell you, the educational barn is still a work in progress they’re really excited about people’s response including how the local agriculture community supported them. The example they love to give is the Hickman family, our egg producers. “They really helped us,” said Katie and Brandon. “We were impressed with their commitment and how they spent time and resources with us. We’re hoping for more partners like that.”
Brandon and Katie hope to grow the field trips. “We’re excited and in it for the long run,” he says.
Ultimately, it’s a growth opportunity for the community, the public’s understanding of Arizona agriculture and for a farm family’s diversification of a business. And, the Patch creates a great outlet for this young, sharp team to use some of their skill sets.
I love this place!
Editor’s Note: Watch for more on this farm story in the coming weeks on “The View” at azfb.org.