Last month, the University of Illinois Ag Ed Club traveled to St. Louis for their annual professional development trip. During this trip, over a dozen members visited various agriculture-related entities, including Breese Central High School, Excel Bottling Company, Osborn Barr Communications Inc., and Eckert’s Belleville Country Store and Farms. Not only were members presented with the opportunity to expand their knowledge of multiple facets of the agriculture industry, but students were also able to network with the University of Illinois alums in numerous agriculture sectors.
The group traveled to Breese Central High School to visit recent 2019 graduate Ms. Harley Carlson. Ms. Carlson teaches numerous classes in the agriculture education program. Her responsibilities include coordinating and teaching the curriculum for the agriculture department and overseeing the FFA program. Having the opportunity to observe Ms. Carlson in her classroom and discuss the challenges and rewards of being an agriculture teacher provided Ag Ed Club members with an opportunity to receive firsthand knowledge of being a first-year teacher.
After visiting Breese Central High School, the group made a stop at Excel Bottling Company, which is the plant where the popular soda Ski is bottled and distributed. Members toured the plant and learned the process of creating and bottling sodas and other specialty beverages. Because all aspects of the business are handled on-site, Ag Ed Club members experienced the many components of a business on a smaller scale. Participants also enjoyed taste-testing many of the unique soda flavors that Excel is known for worldwide.
Following a quick bite to eat at the infamous Dairy King, a local eatery known for delicious burgers and rainbow Ski, the group headed to St. Louis to visit Osborn Barr Communications Inc. There, agriculture education alum Katie Burns greeted the group and lead a panel and tour. During the panel, individuals from various departments spoke about their educational experiences and answered questions. A tour of the agriculture-themed building, including conference rooms designed to look like corn cribs, sparked the imaginations of many of the members.
The group finished the trip with a stop at Eckert’s Belleville Country Store and Farms. Chris Eckert, U of I alum, spoke with the group about the origins of the family business from the beginning until today. Mr. Eckert shared about topics including how the farm adapts to changes in consumer preference as well as challenges faced on the growing side of the business. The charming store and beautiful scenery surrounding the farm served as a perfect ending to the trip.
The trip provided students interested in agricultural communications, leadership, and education an opportunity to grow. Whether networking with alums or expanding their knowledge, attendees walked away from the trip with experiences that they can apply to their professional careers in the future.