The first-year agribusiness instructor at Northeast Community College met with Tara Smydra, associate dean of Agriculture, Math and Science, to share his brainchild.
“I wanted to get my students into the community and apply what they learned in the classroom,” Keller said.
The three-credit class - Agriculture Marketing System - provides an introduction to agribusiness and food products marketing in the U.S. Offered during the spring semester, it is a required class for Northeast agronomy majors pursuing an associate of applied science degree.
After approval, Keller redesigned the curriculum and communicated with potential small businesses that receive no corporate funding for advertising. He said 16 businesses applied with 12 businesses selected, all within 30 minutes from Northeast’s main campus in Norfolk. The assignment was the main class project for the semester.
Keller taught a total of 42 students over three class periods. In the classroom, he said his students learned various aspects of the business world, “feeding it to them in small pieces.”
He divided the students into teams, then matched each team with a business at random.
“Initially, the students seemed overwhelmed and unsure about the idea,” Keller said. “They’re not used to working outside the classroom with a real live business.”
But, “by the end of finishing the first of three components of the class, the students had met with their respective business and were excited,” he said. The project, he added, was an opportunity for the students to learn various aspects of Northeast Nebraska agriculture.
Pfanny’s Farm of rural Randolph, operated by Gene and Julie Pfanstiel since 2012, was among the participating businesses. Their business features a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, with shareholders receiving produce during the growing season.
The couple worked with the team of freshman Heath Koehler, of Norfolk, and sophomores Billy O’Brien, of Newman Grove, Vanessa Reiser, of Butte, and Mitchell Brester, of Howells.
O’Brien said his team met twice with Julie Pfanstiel at the College Library-Resource Center for work sessions, as well as connecting via email and text messages “a lot.”
Reiser said she and her teammates first analyzed the operation and “then made suggestions on things they could improve, like advertising.”
Other ideas included building a brick oven and serving pizza, featuring ingredients raised on their farm, one night a week.
Reiser said Pfanstiel “also wanted our take on whether our generation would be interested in patronizing (such a business).”
To fulfill class requirements, Keller said each team was required to make a PowerPoint presentation of about eight-minutes in length to their classmates.
Pfanstiel was on hand for the classroom presentation on Pfanny’s Farm. Afterward, she said, “I think they did a great job. They should get an ‘A.’”
She added, “We’re really excited about the brick pizza oven idea,” as well as more involvement with the college-age sector.
Keller said the redesigned Agriculture Marketing System class was “a learning experience, not only for students, but for me. I think the students gained a lot of valuable experiences.”
He’s at work on a list of potential businesses for the 2018-19 spring semester class.
Mitchell Brester (from left, standing), of Howells, Heath Koehler, of Norfolk, and Billy O’Brien, of Newman Grove, listen as Vanessa Reiser, of Butte, delivers her portion of a PowerPoint presentation on Pfanny's Farm. The four students teamed to work with the rural Randolph farm as part of their spring semester Agriculture Marketing System class.