Join us to hear about an agriculture exchange program connecting students in Georgia and Germany to each other and to the land. Wes Pace and Holly Garcia of Seminole County Schools tell us how this exciting partnership is opening the minds of students globally.

Wes Pace and Holly Garcia in Classroom Conversations

Join us to hear about an agriculture exchange program connecting students in Georgia and Germany to each other and to the land. Wes Pace and Holly Garcia of Seminole County Schools tell us how this exciting partnership is opening the minds of students globally.

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Ashley Mengwasser: Hey, Georgia Educators. We have new discussion guides available to use with classroom conversations episodes. These discussion guides include open-ended questions to facilitate great discussion and professional learning. After listening to each podcast, find the new discussion guides posted with the classroom conversations, episodes, and blogs in Georgia Home Classroom. Hello, how are you? Or in German. Hallo wie gehts? Welcome to Classroom Conversations, the platform for Georgia's teachers. Classroom conversations is presented by the Georgia Department of Education in Partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting. I'm Ashley Mengwasser, your host of German heritage. It's Mengwasser, really. Ladies and gentlemen, mine Zeit has come. My time has come. I'm not internationally known, but I'm known to rock a microphone. That lyric from the 1988 Classic, It Takes Two. You'll soon hear how the educational program featured in today's episode definitely takes two. Two teachers, two countries, two languages. Why all the Germanic phrases, Ash? I assure you, they're relevant. In Germany, a school you have not yet heard of is connecting across the sea with a school right here in Seminole County, in the southwestern corner of the state in Donaldsonville, Georgia. Why? To discuss agricultural education. Here to brag about ag and reveal their international partnership are Holly Garcia and Wes Pace. Holly is a middle through high ag teacher and Future Farmers of America, or FFA advisor, for Seminole County Middle and High School, and she's joining us via Zoom today. And Wes is the CTAE agriculture instructor at Seminole County High School. Wes also heads up the Young Farmers Association, or YFA, in Seminole County. Basically there are a lot of agriculture orgs that have cropped up around here. Welcome, Wes and Holly. How are you?

Wes Pace: Good afternoon. Fine. And how are you?

Holly Garcia: Great.

Ashley Mengwasser: Good to see you in the flesh. Hey Holly. How you doing out there?

Holly Garcia: Doing good.

Ashley Mengwasser: How's the weather in Seminole County since you're coming to us from there in person?

Holly Garcia: A little cloudy but not too cold.

Ashley Mengwasser: And how's the weather here today, Wes, in studio?

Wes Pace: It was actually really nice. I drove from Dahlonega this morning and had a real nice trip.

Ashley Mengwasser: You had a nice, he had a nice trip. Well, I'm glad you both are here to talk about an incredible partnership that I want to dive into as soon as possible because it's truly fascinating. First, I want you to explain what you currently teach. Wes, I'll start with you.

Wes Pace: Okay. I teach an introductory basic ag science class. That's my only secondary class. And then I work with the farmers in Seminole County and the community.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, that's a big job. Holly, what do you teach?

Holly Garcia: Okay, so throughout the day I teach anywhere from a 6th grader to a 12th grader. And so I have to do a lot of personality shifts through the day. But I teach sixth, seventh, and eighth grade middle school. And then I teach horticulture, which is a lot of greenhouse production. And then I teach floral design as well. And then this year we have a new class called Ag Leadership, and it's focusing on exactly what it sounds like, being a leader in agriculture.

Ashley Mengwasser: Floral design. Are you taking any adult participants in your class?

Holly Garcia: Absolutely, all the time.

Ashley Mengwasser: I'd be interested.

Holly Garcia: We'll take volunteers who want to come help.

Ashley Mengwasser: I want to Zoom for that. And what is each of your personal connection to agriculture? You first, Wes.

Wes Pace: My background, I showed cattle when I was in school, grade school for 10 years. And me and my dad raised show cattle for a long time from the mid-80s until 2006. So I had a burning passion to teach agriculture and animal science was my strong point. So I've taken it from there. Graduated from UGA in 2000 and have been teaching, this is my 23rd year.

Ashley Mengwasser: And sporting his UGA wear today actually, in fact.

Wes Pace: Go Dogs.

Ashley Mengwasser: Show cattle. That is a prestigious business there, Wes. That's a big deal.

Wes Pace: It's fun.

Ashley Mengwasser: When I first heard about show cattle when I was young, I thought that that meant that they dress up. And so when I first saw show cattle, I said, "Where are their dresses?" I was very disappointed.

Wes Pace: Maybe not dresses, but they really are showing up because their hair is about six inches long. These kids put a lot of time and effort in growing that hair. So there's a lot of adhesives and other things that's put on it. There's an art to grooming cattle.

Ashley Mengwasser: Cattle hair.

Wes Pace: Yes, definitely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, the things you learn on this podcast. Holly, what's your personal connection to ag?

Holly Garcia: So, growing up we had a more of a hobby farm, but we had everything. We had cows, we had goats, we had donkeys, everything in between. My dad was heavy into gardening and so we always had this massive garden that was more like a field than it was what you would imagine the small garden. But I started my first ag class when I was in seventh grade, and I haven't left the ag classroom since. I've been hooked since then. And this is my 10th year teaching agriculture.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's incredible. And you're in your 23rd year?

Wes Pace: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: You said, Wes. Oh, so impressive. Well, we've got show quality cattle from Wes and show quality flowers from Holly. I'm just going to try to give you guys a show quality show. Okay? That's what I can bring to the table.

Wes Pace: Sounds good.

Ashley Mengwasser: What are the best crops or animals to start with if you wanted to garden or farm in Georgia?

Wes Pace: Definitely peanuts, corn, cotton, that's our main crops. We do have quite a few soybeans that are grown in Seminole County, but that would be the main ones.

Ashley Mengwasser: You know the most about the living things here, Wes. What sort of living things could one start with if we wanted to start a little farm?

Wes Pace: Poultry would be the big thing in terms of a small project that kids could get started with. So a lot of them have chicken coops and they start raising chickens for laying eggs mainly. So it's a good starter project for our kids, teaches them some responsibility, how to care for animals.

Ashley Mengwasser: Lovely. And how about gardening, Holly?

Holly Garcia: Well luckily in south Georgia we have an excellent climate and all throughout Georgia we have an excellent climate for gardening. And so, I would say be adventurous and try anything that comes up. Of course, you wouldn't want to grow something that only grows in cool weather climates, but we're pretty open to any fruits and vegetables that you want to give a try to. The most exotic thing I've heard from one of our former ag teachers that he tried to grow was kiwi and he had his first kiwi this year.

Ashley Mengwasser: OMG.

Holly Garcia: So, I would say sky's the limit.

Ashley Mengwasser: Kiwi in Georgia. And I know you're a big proponent of, was it raised bed gardening?

Holly Garcia: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Why?

Holly Garcia: Yes. I'm a big fan of that just because no matter where you're at, whether you're in a subdivision, rural area, you can control the soil in a raised bed and you can, even for people like in a more suburban or urban climate, then you can truly experience agriculture through a raised bed by adding those soil additives and things that you need to be successful with gardening, whether you have a yard that has good soil or not. And you can grow all of those big vegetables and tomatoes, peppers, okra grow for it.

Ashley Mengwasser: And it's easier on the joints, right? You're not getting all the way down on the ground.

Holly Garcia: Exactly right.

Ashley Mengwasser: Just an added point I'd like to make. Why, Wes, tell me why are earth worms and spiders and snakes considered friends of farmers?

Wes Pace: Oh, well, we have some natural pests that are beneficial to crops and some of those are good pests in Georgia, so they're keeping us from having to put so many different herbicides and different things to protect our crops. So we do have beneficial insects.

Ashley Mengwasser: And what are some creatures that are not friends of farmers, holly?

Holly Garcia: Let's see. In our area we surprisingly have feral hogs. And so what that is, these are hogs that are wild. They are not your cute pink Peppa Pig hogs. They have tusks, they are vicious, and they will hurt you. But they're actually a major problem in South Georgia and all of, most of Georgia probably, but they will destroy row crops very quickly by just rooting and digging them up and completely wipe out fields. And so they are not the cute Peppa Pig pigs that we want around.

Ashley Mengwasser: I'm going to have nightmares about feral hogs now, Holly. Thank you for that. You two are have an exciting partnership with a Bavarian ag school in Germany. So let's go ahead with the topic here of how did this partnership come to be and how does it work, Wes?

Wes Pace: Okay, it started with Mr. Patrick Wallace. He's the head of foreign languages with the Department of Education here in Georgia. There's actually a local connection. He married our Spanish teacher, our former Spanish teacher.

Ashley Mengwasser: No way.

Wes Pace: So, he did. And she met him in Atlanta and took a job here in Atlanta and then came back to Donaldsonville and took the Spanish job again and they moved to Donaldsonville. So that created this opportunity, to be honest, with us for the Bavarian experience.

So Patrick arranged the whole meeting with the America Haus and it just went from there. We met with our local administration, all met at the German guest house on Seldom Rest Farms. So that's how the German experience began on German, on land in Seminole County.

Ashley Mengwasser: See, love is at the root of all things.

Wes Pace: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's beautiful story. Holly, how does this partnership work? And if you can tell us the name of the school that you guys are working with, if you can pronounce it.

Holly Garcia: Yes, I can. I couldn't until we went there, but the Schonbrunn is the name of the school that we are exchanging with and actually Ms. Sarah Martin, who is from the America Haus, she went after we kind of started, said, okay, we want to do this. And so she went and visited with their school and they actually got to tour their facilities in Landshut, Bavaria. And they said, yes, we would like to do this. And so, their school's very diverse. They have several different departments that are very, very different and it was very difficult to understand until we actually went there. But they said, yes, we would like to do this. We have some English-speaking students who actually wanted to be a part of the exchange. And so in September of 21 we met as teachers, and then in October of 21 we actually met for the first time and had our students online with us and they got to meet each other. And that's kind of been the model from there on out. The teachers will get together, say, "Hey, this is what we want our students to experience." We work with our students individually and then we get to do a virtual exchange with them.

Ashley Mengwasser: I got you. And American Haus you said, and that's H-A-U-S, the German spelling?

Holly Garcia: It is.

Ashley Mengwasser: That was founded by President Jimmy Carter from Georgia with the purpose of just foreign exchange, which I think is a beautiful thing. And a lot of people don't know this, but English is actually a Germanic language. So, it's surprising to me that you guys chose Germany for this. So how does it work? What kinds of information are you exchanging? Wes?

Wes Pace: We're hoping to exchange information on different practices that we do in our schools, the way that we teach agriculture, and then we're hoping that our students can be exposed to the way that they do things in Germany. We witnessed firsthand how their field technicians actually went in and trained their students for two weeks over there. They have a built-in arena where they have equipment, state-of-the-art equipment that they train their students with. They will dis the soil there, displace it, where the students can go in and measure how much soil's been taken away. So those kind of things are real neat that they do over there. They just have really nice facilities to do it with. So we're hoping to have a good exchange with them.

Ashley Mengwasser: Holly, tell me what your students' reactions have been to this partnership and what sort of lessons you've developed.

Holly Garcia: So, they have had a great time with it. Even just the first time we exchanged, they told me afterwards, as having a southern accent, they said, "I think they speak better English than we do." And so, they really did get such a good experience out of it and just seeing, hey, there's other people in the world that are going through the same things that we do as a teenager and going through the same things that we do as a high school student. So, it really was eye-opening that there's a world outside of Seminole County and there are people in it who are very similar to us. And they got to talk about a little bit of agriculture. They got to talk mainly about their schools the first time they met and they really enjoyed that. We made videos, the Seminole County students and the Bavarian students each made a video of our school and got to see, what does it look like in high school in Seminole County? What does it look like in high school in Bavaria? And I think they really enjoyed that aspect of it too.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. Also, this one also for you Holly, is this a model that you feel could be replicated by other metro or rural schools here in Georgia?

Holly Garcia: I very much do, especially the virtual component. So, the virtual component has been something that, by itself, a really cool experience for our students because not only do they get to see each other through Zoom, but they've exchanged letters, they have exchanged cards and gifts and things like that. And so, I believe any school in Georgia or the United States could replicate this, absolutely, especially when you've got the teachers on board. How it's worked for us, I developed a set of lessons, the kids worked on them individually and then we came together through Zoom. And then now Veronica Evender is our partner teacher over there and she has developed a set of lessons on veganism and its effect on agriculture, its effect on culture, how it's becoming more popular. And so, looking at those meat alternatives, they're going to be cooking, we are going to be cooking, seeing what the differences is in the recipes and how they turn out and our students' reactions to them. And so, I think it's relevant no matter what school you are in Seminole or in Georgia on how you can just gain, there's so much to gain that I think any school can gain something from it.

Ashley Mengwasser: And it sounds like should, I mean the sky's the limit with this sort of partnership. And you went there, Holly mentioned recently, Wes, you guys got to visit this Bavarian partner school with a team from your district. What surprised you?

Wes Pace: The pride that the people over there take in their work. They're very proud to be Bavarians, so they identify with being Bavarians instead of Germans. That was one thing that I saw that was pretty interesting. Just a totally different atmosphere I guess with the ag programs over there, how they trained them. So that was the two weeks of training with each specific subject. That was a really surprise how they do that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. What were some of your takeaways, you guys?

Holly Garcia: Well for me, how different the school system is. So as young as fourth grade, they choose their path in life. They choose-

Ashley Mengwasser: That's a lot of pressure.

Holly Garcia: It is, for a 10 year old, yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Fourth grade.

Holly Garcia: And so basically their parents and their teachers say, "Hey, this student's going to be best for university. We're going to set this kid on a path for very academically driven university." They don't have sports teams and stuff like that at their school. All of the sports and everything is recreational. And so that was a big surprise for them about us, how we showed them like video of a pep rallies. That was mind-blowing.

Ashley Mengwasser: What a good time.

Holly Garcia: But yeah, there's several different paths. They can go even down to which vocation they're actually going to go into. And then the rest of their education is catered to that and really focuses in on the skills that they will need to be successful in that particular area. And there's good things and there's bad things. And they were amazed about how our school system worked, but as that was one of the most eye-opening experiences.

Ashley Mengwasser: Did you have any other takeaways, Wes?

Wes Pace: I was just going to say how they invest in their students with the, and I think I hit on that a little bit with the equipment that they had available, the resources that they pull. And when we visited, the festivities that was a part of, or it was the end of Octoberfest in Landshut?

Ashley Mengwasser: Mm-hmm.

Wes Pace: Okay. They had a lot of equipment out there and these technicians would come into the schools and train these students. They're really invested in their kids and they want to see that they pursue ag careers. So that was my biggest takeaway from that.

Ashley Mengwasser: From the fourth grade onward. With great power comes great responsibility as they say. Well, following your visit and this partnership, what things are now possible in terms of an international school to school partnership in agriculture? You mentioned that you're doing this virtually, Holly, obviously you're not flying back and forth to each country. But what kind of information swaps are happening? What kind of activities and lessons? What is this enabling in terms of learning that your students would not be seeing otherwise for both of you? Holly, you first.

Holly Garcia: So, two of the projects that we've done so far, the first one was called Soil Across Oceans. And we basically looked at agriculture and said down to the root of it, which is your soul, and that's going to focus on things like topography, soil profile, types of crops, just the differences in how our countries are physically, like the physical aspects of our different countries. And then I already mentioned the vegan project that we're working on now. But looking forward, even after visiting there, there's so many takeaways that I want my students to have. And just some of them, we said agriculture was of course the main thing we wanted them to see, but even the culture and the language and having that experience there, because anytime you're immersed in a language, you're going to learn it faster. And so, while we were there, we learned more than we would have just sitting in the classroom. And then even the culture, seeing buildings that are older than the United States itself was incredible. And again, just mind boggling that those things still exist and those things are still taken care of and they take such pride in up keeping those. And so not even just agriculture, but I want them to learn about culture outside of our state and our country.

Ashley Mengwasser: Hear, hear. What sort of things are now possible because of this partnership, Wes?

Wes Pace: Much of the same. I agree with Holly. We do have a unique situation in Seminole County with this family that owns land in the county, the Villsbach family. And I'm hoping that when students can travel from Germany to our state, that they will be able to see things out on the farm that we can actually involve them on hands-on activities out there, maybe doing some fire break plots, dishing that up. The farm manager for Seldom Rest Farms, he's indicated that we can do that with the students. He's going to give us the use of that land. So I'm hoping that we can really do a lot of activities out there with them and showing them that we are hands on.

Ashley Mengwasser: And what is this plot you speak of?

Wes Pace: Well, this is, Seldom Rest is a 7,500-acre farm. And so the fire breaks around the timber plots was what I was referring to actually engage them in the work in doing that and many other things too. I'm just trying to think of something to get them started with.

Ashley Mengwasser: And give them something rooted to do here on this family's farm right here in Georgia because you guys have, you swapped their side, now it's time to swap back. Can you each pick maybe one lesson that you've developed as a result of your partnership for your students? Holly, you first.

Holly Garcia: When we came back, of course, we immediately put pictures together so we could tell people about our experience and trip and everything. And so one of the things that I did while we were in Germany is I bought a book and it was called Wonders of Nature in translation. But one of the things I had my students do was actually translate chapters of that book and then be able to even just work on pronunciation and things like that. And so, we looked at that. I was able to tell them much more detailed information about the agriculture in Germany. And so my ag leadership class, that's been a main focus for them is to learn more about agriculture, culture, language, education system in Germany. And so they are very invested in it as well. They almost feel like they've been over there, but I know there's so much more for them to learn. And we hope to actually do a physical exchange of students in the coming year.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wow, that's really cool. What about a lesson plan you've developed from this, Wes?

Wes Pace: I'd learned a lot through cover crops in Germany, about nitrogen fixation in the soil. They're really big on that in Germany. And so teaching students why it's important to replace nitrogen back in the soil is one of our key things in Georgia too.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, I remember learning about that with another GBB education project, a live exploration I hosted on Georgia peanuts.

Wes Pace: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Nitrogen fixation being important for peanut growth.

Wes Pace: That's right. So they have some of the same things we do, with fields of clover after they get through harvesting a crop. And that's something that's very important over there. And so I think we definitely need to keep those lessons going with our students too.

Ashley Mengwasser: Would you say that the makeup of the soil in Germany is comparable to Georgia's?

Wes Pace: Very dark soil, very nutrient rich soil. So they're very well adapted to growing anything everywhere.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's why the food is so good.

Wes Pace: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. All those nutrients, I tell ya.

Wes Pace: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, you personally can't go to Germany and come back unchanged. I just don't believe it. So how has this opportunity affected the way you view the importance of your role as an ag teacher, for instance? Has it changed that at all, Wes?

Wes Pace: Well, it makes me look at being an ag teacher to educate all students. I've always said that our main goal as an ag teacher is to teach students. But now as the international agriculture concepts come in to play, it's all students. I'm interested in educating their students equally the same as ours. So, I think we need to develop that potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success with our students, FFA students and those as well in Germany. So I'm really looking-

Ashley Mengwasser: With the same intentionality they have.

Wes Pace: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's a wonderful takeaway. How has it affected the way you view your role as an ag teacher, Holly?

Holly Garcia: So, for me, I've focused, of course, the last 10 years on teaching agriculture and teaching United States agriculture and teaching southwest Georgia agriculture. But this really opened it up into seeing it from a global perspective. And hey, no, we're not all going to grow the same thing. We're not all going to be row crop farmers, but seeing how they take what they have and they make it work and they take conservation so seriously and being able to conserve the land that they do have. Obviously, Germany is a much smaller state than the United States or even Georgia. So, Bavaria is a much smaller region, but taking what they have and use it conservatively and to enable, ensure that land and those resources are going to be available for future generations and making sure that they're doing what they can to be able to pass something down to their children. And so, I think that's really something we can focus on more as agricultural advocates in the United States is being conservative and using those resources wisely and making sure that we're making the most out of what we're given.

Ashley Mengwasser: Agricultural advocates. I love it. Very powerful. And what about the impact on the students, both those here in Georgia and in Germany? Fun fact that this is an exciting milestone because this is actually the first of its kind partnership that this nation has seen between the USA and Germany, which is fascinating. So what impacts are you projecting for students here and there?

Holly Garcia: Of course, we've got our virtual exchange going on, but my hope is that we can truly start a physical exchange. Because even when we were in the planning phases, we didn't realize the impact it would have on us personally. And I want my kids to experience that. And so, I really hope that we can soon do a physical exchange of students for that. And even when we were there, we got to go and visit with their students in class. And a lot of them were like, "I've never seen an American before." And I was like, "I don't have any tricks to do for you. This is just me."

Ashley Mengwasser: Perform for us, American.

Holly Garcia: Yes. And so I really think that was a cool experience for everyone involved.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. What impact are you seeing for students here and there, Wes?

Wes Pace: I definitely think with the exchange of students going over to Germany, they'll see what we saw, a lot of differences, but yet some similarities. I think it will spark their interest, maybe even push them to an agricultural career even more than being taught over here. So, my thoughts as far as that goes is schooling is free in both countries for the students that are traveling, German students going to school over here free and vice versa. So why not take advantage of that opportunity and pursue your post-secondary career or your schooling and then pursue a career? Maybe they come back over here, maybe they stay over there, who knows? So the sky's the limit. I think it opens up a huge door of opportunities.

Ashley Mengwasser: A whole world of agriculture.

Wes Pace: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: And Germany is the gateway to that. That's beautiful. Well pie in the sky, cast vision for me. What is next for this agricultural partnership if you had your druthers, Wes?

Wes Pace: Ooh, like I say, the sky is the limit. I think our end goal is maybe training these students so that they come back into our own communities. We have some very big ag industry in Seminole County. American Peanut Growers is one of them. We're just about to put up, I think it's a $83 million peanut butter, ready to eat peanut facility there.

Ashley Mengwasser: I'm so there. Yum.

Wes Pace: Yeah, me too. I'm getting hungry thinking about it. LMC, Lewis Carter Manufacturing, they make the shaking and sizing equipment all over the world. So who knows? We could be training students that take jobs in a plant that's opened up in Germany. That could be a part of what we are already having Donaldsonville. So yeah, a lot of possibilities.

Ashley Mengwasser: What's your vision, Holly?

Holly Garcia: Well, exciting news. They are coming to see us in March.

Ashley Mengwasser: What?

Wes Pace: That's right.

Holly Garcia: Yes. We have a group of, I believe eight German teachers and some of their involved parties that are coming here in March. They're going to stay with us for a week, so we now get to show off Georgia, like they got to show off Landshut and the surrounding areas. So, I'm really excited to get to see them again, not only get to see them again, but to get to show off our part of the world and show them what we have to offer. And hopefully they have just as good or better experience than as we had.

And then our goal there, while we were in Germany, we had a very long meeting with all of the parties involved, and we just really sat down and brainstormed and said, "Hey, what do we want to get out of this? What do we want our students to get out of this?" And there was a ton of logistical talk, and I really feel like everyone walked away with a clearer picture of what we want this program to look like. And I hope to replicate that and to again, kind of hone in on our focus for what we want the program to look like for our students when they come and visit us in March and hopefully get some physical exchanges going for our students.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, I hope you will show them or play for them your Classroom Conversations episode, right?

Holly Garcia: Yes, of course.

Ashley Mengwasser: Where they get all these wonderful shout outs. Well, congratulations on all you were doing. This is so impressive. Thank you, Wes. Thank you, Holly.

Wes Pace: Thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: And thank you, Bavaria. Okay, educators. As you cultivate your own approach to agricultural ed, let it be rooted in this. You're a great teacher. Let the best ideas ripen and just weed out the rest. This may have been the cream of the crop, but we're back next week with another different topic to enrich your teaching strategies. Until then, I'm Ashley Mengwasser. Goodbye. Funding for classroom conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.