I’m not sure the school administration– and perhaps some of the School Board members– grasp the significance of the recommendation to leave an agriculture teaching position unfilled in the next school year.

While it may make budget sense (and I realize how tough budgets can be), considering this proposal is actually an assault on a declining culture that many of us feel is worth preserving.

Agriculture. Rural. Agrarian. Call it what you will, but what so many people like about Botetourt is our “rural character.” Preserving it was No. 1 in the last countywide survey of residents.

It was no surprise more than 100 residents attended last week’s School Board meeting to offer their support for keeping the ag teacher/FFA advisor position in the budget. It’s  no surprise to many of us that hundreds (probably thousands) more support this.

To many, rural character is farm and forestland. But it’s more than a picturesque view. It is the character of the people. I call it rural culture. And you don’t have to live in the “country” to have and appreciate that culture. It’s in Cloverdale as well as Eagle Rock. It’s White and Black, Hispanic and Far Eastern. It’s polite children. It’s considerate neighbors. It’s church suppers. It’s volunteering and 4-H clubs, FCCLA and FFA, Honor Society and Marching Band, local sports and  youth group, Lions and Ruritans,  VFW and American Legion, Women’s Club and Friends of Library.

Rural culture has been under assault for years– the brunt of jokes on late-night TV, the idea that development is the cure all for rural communities; the assault on our family heritages and our own forefathers; the presumption we live in an arcane world and are intolerant of “alternate lifestyles” when in fact we are much less judgmental and more inclusive because we already know what assault on culture is.

So, when the School Board began considering dropping an ag position, it became a lightning rod for those who only needed a way to vent their frustration with this ongoing assault…like the straw that broke the mule’s back. It is an affront, and a justified affront to this world; and a “How dare you– you whom we elected?”

Then, there are the practical reasons to revise this proposal.

Why consider this proposal  when the board and administration have lauded the FFA programs time after time with only positive things to say about how important the high school ag programs have been.
Was that just the board and administration riding the wave of student accomplishments without any real depth to their comments?

It’s disappointing that board members have not declared to administration that this is a total non-starter since ag education is STEM-H education and is a foundation for other CTE programs. The idea of shifting a position is not keeping and filling a position. As one observer noted after last week’s board meeting, “Shifting a position from one school to James River is still just two positions, not three.” Our schools did a good job of teaching math.

As mentioned, Botetourt’s last community survey showed that maintaining Botetourt’s rural character was the most important thing to the residents.
Rural means keeping successful ag businesses (beef farms, greenhouses, vegetable truck farms, vineyards, dairies, equestrian, etc.)– where making an income is important– alive. Today that necessitates local government support through such things as strong ag programs in the schools.

Ag education is perhaps the most practical program in our high schools. Our county administrator has said all subjects can be taught with agricultural education – science, biology, math, reading, writing, technology, engineering, health and more.

Ag education and its collaborative FFA program teaches all of the Six C’s the school administration has preached the past few years, the Soft Skills C’s county employers are asking for: critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration, citizenship and conviction. The ag programs also add to those with problem solving.

What other program does all if those?
“The Botetourt Way” is to find a way to do more promoting ag and not less; to provide more support for the contingent of students who grow up in our “rural culture” whether they are headed off to college or not.

After all, the young people who stay in Botetourt are those most closely tied to agriculture and the land. We don’t have to convince them to come back home, to raise their families here.
It’s a shame not to support ag at the highest financial level, particularly when there are more farming and ag businesses in Botetourt than just about all other businesses combined; farming businesses and families who pay considerable local taxes.

Budget pressures are tough, but ag is more than a program. It should not be an easy cut just because of some unfortunate circumstances and because a replacement teacher is leaving.


Edwin McCoy