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Students balance working on family farm with school workload

“It means something to come home sweaty and dirty at the end of the day and knowing you accomplished something that is hard”
Published: Aug. 28, 2021 at 6:12 PM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — With school underway, some students are reacquainting themselves with waking up early and heading to class; but, for those students who live on family farms, their days often begin much earlier.

The Zollinger family raises corn, sugar beets, hay, grain and even has a small beef cow operation in Burley. Their oldest son Tregan has taken on a larger role on the farm as he’s matured. That means waking up at 5:30 am to work on the farm, and sometimes pushing through long, tiring days.

“There are always those days,” said Tregan Zollinger, who is a student at Declo High School. “I know I’ve got to keep going to be an example to my brothers.”

Zollinger is one of many students who balance working on the farm with school, and in his case playing three different sports: baseball, basketball and football.

“It’s pretty amazing that he’s able to handle it all, so I’m impressed,” said Tregan’s father Travis Zollinger. “It goes to show that he’s really interested in this occupation. This occupation is a dying breed, so it’s nice to see he has some interest in keeping it going when I retire.”

Tregan said he learned his work ethic from his father.

“He’s taught me everything I know,” said Tregan. “When work needs to be done, I know we need to get it done so we just do it.”

The high school senior said he believes working on the farm has prepared him for succeeding in the classroom.

“I just get going because I’m used to being able to go in the summer and just go all day,” said Tregan. “In school, if I’m paying attention [and] if I just keep going strong, I know if I pass my grades I can graduate and keep going on with my life.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Statistics Service, over 95% of Idaho’s nearly 25,000 farms are family-owned, which means many children in the Gem State have to balance family commitments on the farm along with their education.

“As we start school in the Fall, there are always students who are still tied to the farm and have talked to us about ‘I’ll need some help in the morning. I might be late because I’m moving lines,” said Declo High School principal Roland Bott.

Bott himself was raised on a family farm where he milked cows before and after school. He said at Declo High School they try to structure the schedules of students who are tied to the farm in a way that maximized their opportunity to reach their educational goals.

“We have tried to make at times for some students their first hour not be a core class in case they’re moving lines or doing family chores,” said Bott.

Bott added he believes students who have direct ties to the farm, have a sense of work that differs from other children.

“It means something to come home sweaty and dirty at the end of the day and knowing you accomplished something that is hard,” said Bott. “Sometimes we don’t do hard things anymore.”

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