The field between Midwest Central High School and Midwest Central Primary School looks like nothing special: just another corn field in a farming town.
That 13-acre cornfield sandwiched between two school buildings, though, is so much more. That field stands as a testament to how important it is to the village's residents to pass on the tradition of farming to the next generation.
What sits between the high school and the primary school is not just any normal corn field used for agriculture classes at the high school. It is a corn field used for agriculture classes that is watered by an irrigation system that was entirely funded by tens of thousands of dollars in donations from community members and that helped the Future Farmers of America set up a self-sustaining corn growing program that can withstand funding cuts from the state.
Midwest Central High School Principal Jay Blair said the school is the only one in the state that has its own irrigation system and that is thanks to community support.
"It just kind of snowballed into a big thing," Blair said.
The idea of providing a $50,000 irrigation system to the school's FFA program was the brainchild of local farmer J.D. Proehl, who put in the leg work of rounding up the donations from residents and local businesses — but mostly individual residents. Proehl said he started his efforts in the fall of 2011 when he realized that state funding cuts to agricultural programs and to the FFA prohibited the Manito program from taking advantage of Mason County's abundant underground water supply.
According to Proehl, he could have raised even more money but he stopped when he had raised more than enough to install the irrigation system and to get the project off the ground using donated fertilizer and seed.
"I've never had it so easy, to get the money for this project. It was unbelievable," Proehl said.
Another local farmer, John Breedlove, whose son attends Midwest Central, used his equipment to plant the field in April in the presence of all of the school's agriculture classes and he also handled the harvesting in September — again in the presence of the school's agriculture classes.
The project came together just in time to save the crop from one of the worst droughts the area has seen in years in 2012. Proehl said that using Breedlove's cell phone program to control the irrigation system, 22 inches of water were put on the plot to get the crop through the dry summer months.
"It was a great thing that happened for us, I mean just for the (agriculture) field alone," Blair said. "One year we barely had enough to harvest and then we had a great yield last year."
Page 2 of 2 - Using five different hybrid seed types, the school's corn field yield ranged from 235 bushels per acre to 256 bushels per acre and the entire crop sold for about $17,000, according to Proehl, and all of that money will go toward funding FFA's programs in Manito.
Blair lauded the program not just for its ability to help sponsor the local FFA, but also for its purpose as an educational tool around which he said the school is going to incorporate an entire curriculum.
Proehl said Breedlove will likely lead the efforts to plant and harvest the field while his son is a student at the high school but then he hopes another farmer parent will step up and take over.
For Midwest Central School District, the irrigation system is another example of the community stepping up to help improve education while funding shortages threaten programs. The school has also partnered with Excel Foundry to obtain some manufacturing equipment to start a modern manufacturing program for students.