Learning the Challenges and Successes of Farming

Jessica McAtamneyRidge Howell is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts in 4-H and Future Farmers of America.


What a fantastic surprise to be chosen as a Champion of Change and to represent the Philadelphia FFA and WB Saul high school of Agricultural Sciences in Philadelphia, PA. Not an obvious location for one of the nation’s largest FFA chapters, Philadelphia is home to fourteen agricultural educators making strides in horticulture, animal science, natural resource management, food science, and agricultural production. As one of the head FFA advisors, I am responsible for trip coordination, Career Development Events, Leadership Conferences, and FFA activities throughout the high school.  Saul boasts four Pennsylvania State FFA officers and currently one National FFA candidate. Needless to say, Saul has the best FFA chapter tee shirts around!

I teach Advanced Placement Environmental Science, AgroEcoogy, and Urban Gardening. With Saul’s agricultural uniqueness I have had the privilege to help found, coordinate, and facilitate the Henry Got Crops! Community Supported Agricultural Partnership between Saul High School, Weavers Way Cooperative, and Fairmount Park. This fantastic CSA allows students to have a true hands on working perspective of agricultural vegetable production, compost production, and currently, a native berry/fruit tree nursery. Henry Got Crops! serves as an example of true community partnership that supports students, their learning and their own personal growth. Appropriately named by an AgroEcology student for Saul’s location on Henry Avenue, Henry Got Crops! demonstrates the challenges and successes of farming without chemicals and enables students to see the value in sustainable crop production.

At Saul and within the Philadelphia FFA Chapter, I am also responsible for the coordination of the Outward Bound programming, the World Food Prize Programming, the Students Run Philly Style Marathon Training Program, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Engineers without Borders programming. I also co-facilitate the Mentally Gifted Program and work with a wonderful scientist through the Scientists as Teachers - Teachers as Scientists program. Most importantly, ecology speaking, I have facilitated the entire school’s recycling efforts. Through contamination, inappropriate receptacles and questionable collection methods, Saul can now safely say that it is recycling to the best of its ability and that the amount of recyclable waste entering landfills has been dramatically diminished.

Never did I think that Mr. Smokers faith in a little organization called It’s Our World Too or Mom’s relentless work in the small “truck” garden would land me a space as a Champion of Change. I hope that I am able to empower my students in such a manner and to create more agents of change within Philadelphia communities.

Jessica Naugle McAtamney is an agricultural educator at W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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