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Sturgeon Comp students get hands on with Green Certificate program

Offers on-farm education for high-school credit
Green Certificate CC 0001
Sturgeon Composite High School student Charlize Ference is learning how to care for horses as part of the Green Certificate program at the school. The program lets students gain real on-farm experience in agriculture for class credit and is aimed at encouraging more youths to get into farming. Here, she preps her family’s horse Ralph for a ride on their property near Bon Accord. CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

Sometimes going to class on the farm means learning lessons at the School of Hard Knocks.

Just ask Sturgeon Composite’s Charlize Ference. She’s learning to be an equine technician, and was recently working with a young horse named Ralph.

“We were jumping and we tried something new,” she explained, when asked about her crutches and broken ankle.

“He didn’t take it very well, so he did kind of a weird jump and I fell off.”

Ference is one of about six students enrolled in the Green Certificate Program at Sturgeon Composite – a province-wide initiative that lets students get high-school credit for learning about farm jobs through on-the-farm experience.

The program is a relatively new arrival at the school and is meant to get students interested in agriculture, said Sturgeon Composite off-campus co-ordinator Chantelle Rufiange.

“Most of our kids are farm kids,” she noted, and many are already doing farm-related work at home. This certificate gives them a chance to get up to 16 course credits in the process and pushes them to learn more about agriculture.

Like the Registered Apprenticeship Program, the Green Certificate features a mix of book learning and hands-on experience supervised by experienced farm workers, with tests administered three times a year by industry experts, Rufiange explained. After about 400 hours of on-the-job learning, students earn their certification as bee, cow, crop, pig, horse or chicken-care technicians.

Horses and crops

Ference and fellow Green Certificate student Taylor Waddell said they enrolled in the program because they were interested in horses, having worked with them on their family farms and through 4-H Club.

“I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up,” Waddell said, and this course gives her the hands-on experience needed for that sort of job.

Bailey Mulligan is studying field crop production through the program, having learned much about grain production through her dad on the family farm.

“It’s always been something that’s kind of mesmerized me with how everything worked,” she said of the farm, and this course gives her a chance to spend more time with her dad.

While you could theoretically complete the certificate program in a semester, Ference and Waddell said they plan to spread theirs out over three years by doing the work after school. In their cases, their course teachers are actually their parents, which means they can ask them for guidance whenever they like.

Ference and Waddell said they’ve been learning a lot about horse genetics and practical skills such as how to handle a skittish animal. For Mulligan, her lessons include crop growth patterns, fertilizer application and farm machinery operation.

“It’s definitely very information-heavy compared to a lot of the classes here (in school),” Mulligan said, but you get to learn at your own pace.

“I get to learn a lot more of the ‘behind the scenes’ of it,” she said of farming, and she’s able to actually help out her father when the two of them do crop inspections.

Mulligan said anyone who’s interested in agriculture or where food comes from should give the green certificate program a shot.

Rufiange said the course is open to anyone, and she can set up students with mentors if they don’t have family farm connections.

As for her recent painful lesson, Ference said she’s learned the importance of cautious, defensive riding when training a new horse, and is confident Ralph will be much less of a “squirrely headed baby” when the two of them finish the certificate program next year.

“Accidents happen, and you just kind of have to go along with it.”

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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