Jiadong Agricultural Vocational High School
Doing It All, From Field to Dinner Table
Handling everything from raising chickens and growing vegetables to harvesting coffee beans and stuffing sausages, the school is developing Taiwan’s new generation of farmers with professional skills and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Doing It All, From Field to Dinner TableBy Liao Yun-chang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 586 )
National Jiadong Agricultural Vocational Senior High School is an agricultural school that emphasizes “learning by doing.” From hatching eggs to cultivating chickens, neutering chickens to processing, raising pigs and cows, students do everything themselves. From harvesting organic rice, fruits and vegetables, coffee, baking bread, making mooncakes, and stuffing sausages, the school takes on every step through sales and marketing.
The school, occupying approximately 12 hectares of land, is a real working farm, complete with an organic ecological zone, cultivating fruits and vegetables year-round. Five hundred coffee trees hide under the shade of Madagascar almonds, and plump roosters stroll around open cages along with peacocks and turkeys.
In addition to livestock husbandry and meat processing facilities, the school boasts the only brick oven kiln among all agricultural schools nationwide, used for baking bread and making pizza. With a mobile coffee truck loaded with organic coffee beans cultivated on school grounds, the school can produce a moveable feast anywhere.
“Agriculture gives people a feeling of contentedness, be it in animal husbandry or cultivation. You can always count on production within three months, which gives a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” says school’s head, Yang Rong-fung, as he uses a siphon to prepare coffee made with beans cultivated by the school for his guests. As he busies himself making coffee, he goes into detail describing how a failure to pay proper attention to process has resulted in Taiwan being rife with food safety issues.
Jiadong endeavors to make its students into a new generation of Taiwanese farmers, with a few new twists for the current times: From the farm to the dinner table, whether or not they work in an agriculture-related industry or start their own business, they will be well equipped with job skills and instilled with an entrepreneurial spirit, supplying Taiwanese agriculture with a steady supply of fresh talent.
E-commerce, multi-level industry-academia cooperation
Added to the existing farm operation, livestock health, landscaping, agricultural machinery, food processing, food and beverage management departments, this year Jiadong has added an e-Commerce curriculum. Apart from engaging in production, students can take advantage of Internet technology to get online to tell their stories and market their goods.
The school has engaged in cooperative arrangements with large agricultural industries for many years, including meat processing outfits like T-Ham and Futong Food Enterprise. Ming Hwei Industry, a maker of screws, offers Jiadong students internships every year. Known-You Seed, Inc. has been an industry-academia partner for over 40 years, not only letting students intern there during winter and summer breaks, but also hiring them straight after graduation.
Agricultural schools provide a real “flesh and blood” education, where the first lesson students learn is that “there are no two-day weekends in agriculture. Whatever you do, you have to see it through.” From nothing to something, life to death, it cultivates students’ sense of responsibility and establishes their bearings on reality.
Diving Right In
In the chicken coop, fuzzy yellow chicks less than a week old sip water and peck at their food. A student dressed in rain boots and sweatpants cleans, and an unassuming, shy-looking male student raises his head to check the thermometer, explaining that the little chicks will get sick if the coop is too cold, warm, or the air circulation is poor. Once chicks fall ill, if they become contagious, severe casualties will result, which is why when cleaning up each day the temperature must be checked to look after the chicks’ health. The flock is let out to wander in the afternoon, bask in the sun, and take in the fresh air.
Tasks like raising chickens and ducks, and feeding pigs are mandatory for animal husbandry health studies. Department of Fowl and Livestock Health director Chung De-tsun, a tall, hulking man students call “Old Daddy,” who wears his bright orange work clothes like a uniform, appears imposing when there is no smile on his face. When students see him, they fall into line like little chicks themselves.
Chung, a certified graduate of the senior civil service examination, comes from a family that raised livestock, giving him a broad adeptness with cash animals. “Raise chickens as a high school freshman, test for a rating as a sophomore, and intern as a junior,” he says. The Fowl and Livestock Health curriculum allows the students to gain hands-on experience before incorporating theory to corroborate what they have learned, which results in a greater sense of accomplishment.
One male sophomore majoring in Fowl and Livestock Health relates that he was motivated to apply for admission to Jiadong out of an interest in pet grooming and beauty. “Little did I know we’d only get to pet grooming in our junior year,” he says.
One student whose family is involved in animal husbandry expresses amazement at being able to help back at home with the knowledge and skills learned at the school. Waving the organic hay in his hands he laughs and says, “I’m taking this for the rabbits back home to eat.”
Responsibility, not Attachment
Vocational skills faculty are like athletic coaches; they must have a deep technical foundation, the ability to teach technical skills, accompany students through strenuous practice, and undergo various rating and certification examinations.
Chung spends no less time in the chicken coops and pigpens than his office, teaching students how to neuter chickens or collecting sperm from a stud pig for artificial insemination, and eventually delivering the litter.
Chung explains that artificial insemination can reduce the spread of disease, and increase economic efficacy. Students that acclimate themselves have good prospects, and many female students distinguish themselves especially well.
“Not only do they know how to raise pigs, but they can collect sperm, oversee artificial insemination, and attend to a pig giving birth,” observes Chung. One time, just before a school break, he found a sow that was likely to give birth over the weekend. He assigned several students to stay on campus and stand by.
But the sow was a new mother, and in her inexperience she got exhausted after delivering a couple of piglets. Seeing that the remaining babies could end up stillborn, he directed a female student to give a helping hand. She climbed into the pig pen, bent over, reached into the sow’s birth canal and pulled out one little piglet after the other, overjoyed at being able to help a sow give birth.
Spending so much time with the animals, day and night, do the students develop emotional attachments? And if they do, how can they bear to slaughter the animals themselves?
“Of course that’s not allowed! We don’t let students give animals names. They’re for eating – that’s the animals’ fate, unless all people became vegetarians. Since you might one day eat the animal, you should take good care of it, raising and slaughtering it in humane fashion, and not wasting food. That’s what being moral is about,” says Chung.
Humane raising and slaughtering is an inevitable trend in animal husbandry. Students are obligated to work shifts at school even over Chinese New Year and other official holidays to attend to the chickens. “Since when do chickens have two-day weekends?” he quips. “If you’re going to raise them you have to commit to going all the way. If you have no sense of responsibility, the animals will just die on you.”
Working with living, breathing animals day in and day out, the students come to gain an appreciation for what responsibility means.
Raising Organic Farming’s 2nd Generation
In recent years, a number of high tech industries have begun investing in the development of plant life production facilities, turning stereotypes about agriculture on their ear. Moreover, the availability of extensive farmland has made “half-agriculture, half-(blank)” a popular way of life to which many modern working professionals aspire. Still, it is not so easy to be a healthy farmer and a friend to the land.
Huang Hsin-ching, a graduate of the Agronomy department at National Chung Hsing University, has taught at Jiadong for 22 years. As a senior specialist in agronomy, even the Kaohsiung City Government named him to its agricultural advisory committee.
Huang is highly versed in structural issues in agriculture, especially the various ways existing agricultural practices cause harm. A decade ago, he began teaching an organic, non-toxic farming curriculum, including using pheromones to eliminate pests.
Simply put, his “sex pheromone pest prevention method” involves exterminating male pests using synthetic sex pheromones, causing the population to dwindle and go extinct.
He used this method to create an organic, non-toxic cultivation zone on campus, where plump, delicious fruits and vegetables are grown with no pesticides. Often, the produce has barely touched the school co-op’s shelves before it is sold out.
Most of Jiadong’s students come from farming families. Huang hopes to train a new generation of organic farming experts through this method, gradually supplanting the existing over-reliance on artificial pesticides.
If this new generation of farmers understands how to treat the land well, as well as take care of their own health, they will have a good influence on land usage practices when they take over family businesses, ultimately leaving behind a sustainable plot of healthy land.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman