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Miami High School ag program building for the future

On February 2, MHS AG instructor and FFA advisor Jimmy Crosby took a team of six students to the valley for the FFA Superstition regional Poultry code contest, where they took a first-place finish, with the top four from Miami. Picture (r-l) Reagan Powel, Lilly Light, Andrew Brown, Jessa Wilson, Stacy Holsome, and John-Wayne Francisco. Photo provided

On a recent cool January day, Miami High School agriculture instructor and Future Farmers of America (FFA) advisor Jimmy Crosby was hard at work. Moving across a small area of the campus that overlooks the railroad tracks on the northern edge of the campus, he was taking measurements to determine where he could fit two hoop houses that his students will help build, thanks to a grant from Empower America.

The roughly quarter-acre property is where the Vandals have held their homecoming bonfire for the past 30 years. Now, the annual pyre will have to share space with the ag program, which is expanding under Crosby’s leadership.

“I’m not going to teach children how to run a ranch. I’m not going to teach them how to be cowboys,” Crosby says. “There’s no need for me to teach that. What they need to know is where their food comes from, because they’re gonna have to eat for the rest of their lives.”

To that end, Crosby has ramped up the program and is working with the Culinary department to educate and feed students and other members of the school community.

Crosby stands in front of a large expanse of land on the school property where he hopes to add pens for livestock and better facilities for the animals. He has big plans to bring a full-circle Ag program to MHS and says the administration has been supportive.
Photo by LCGross

Crosby has deep roots in Arizona—his family has been here since the 1880s—and a lifetime of experience running cattle, both in Arizona and in Texas.

He began his 15-year teaching career at Snowflake High School and has taught in Round Valley and Eager as well as in Oklahoma.

After stints at San Carlos and Globe high schools, Crosby landed in Miami and says he feels it’s a good fit. The school district has given him the go-ahead to update and modernize the program, and he estimates the project will take three years to complete.

If his initial year is any indication, Crosby is already well on the way to reaching his goal.

His students are in the process of adding infrastructure to the property for raising and processing livestock. Plans include bringing water and electricity to the lot and even adding a solar pump to the site’s well.

During a very wet, rainy week in February, we met up with Crosby in the greenhouse where he showed us grape vines they were trying to rescue from the school grounds. They had been removed to allow for a paint project. Photo by LCGross

As the program expands, there’s a lot of work to create barriers to protect livestock from predators like javelinas, raptors and coyotes. 

There are also plans to build a pond to raise catfish and crawdads—food fish that can be harvested—rather than ornamental fish such as carp, goldfish, or koi.

There are already a number of different types of fowl on the property, including chickens and turkeys. Crosby says the program has four goats that are expecting kids in April, so he wants to be ready when that happens.

Another task is to clear out singed and blackened nails from hundreds of wooden pallets that have fed homecoming bonfires since the early ’90s. MUSD eighth graders have taken up the work, and Crosby’s youngest son, Jared, joined. They’ve been using a rolling magnet to pick up the nails, but thousands are still on the property, mixed in with the decades of dust and ashes.

At the heart of Crosby’s curriculum is a desire for his students to learn how to raise and harvest animals correctly. He also teaches his students the importance of not wasting food.

Crosby takes his inspiration from Mary Temple Grandin, the subject of a 2010 HBO documentary. Grandin is an autistic woman who advocates for humanely treating the animals we use for food.

In the 1980s, Grandin revolutionized the practices used to handle livestock on cattle ranches and in slaughterhouses, creating more humane ways to harvest meat.

“She looked at things in a totally different way,” Crosby says. “Treating animals more humanely and seeing to it they are not tortured.”

Crosby works with students from the AG and Culinary programs as they butcher 30 chickens in early January, turning them into food for the school. Photo provided

The lessons on humane treatment came into focus recently when Crosby’s ag students worked in partnership with the school’s Culinary program to slaughter and process 30 chickens raised on the property.

“It was the coolest collaboration between CTE programs we’ve ever done,” says Culinary Arts instructor Dan Hill. “Most of my students participated, but there were a few that didn’t want to do it.”

The first day was devoted to humanely killing the animals and initial processing, followed by a day in the kitchen “fabricating” the carcasses. The third day, and several subsequently, were devoted to cooking the chickens and serving the food.

“We had chicken tacos, chicken enchiladas, chicken Fettuccine Alfredo, and we cooked all the bones down to a stock,” Hill says. “We made a really good chicken noodle soup that we fed to teachers and staff members. So not much went to waste.”

MHS Ag instructor Jimmy Crosby shows Culinary Program students the finer points of processing chicken in the school’s kitchen. Photos provided

Hill added that in the past, the ag program mostly provided vegetables in the form of squash, but the program’s new dynamics—including the processing of a goat and a sheep—represent a welcome change for culinary students and the people they feed.

Crosby says showing students where their food comes from helps dispel “the stories we make up about where chicken nuggets come from.” He appreciates the positive collaboration with other CTE programs.

The collaboration with the Culinary program “was the best three days of teaching I’ve ever had,” Crosby says. “It was great working with Mr. Hill, and there was a lot of excitement from the kids, which is always a win.”

In the future, Crosby hopes to add beef, turkey and pork to the menu, both for use at school and as a revenue stream to help finance his plans.

“It takes a lot of work to build a program,” Crosby says. “This is a good administration, and what the MUSD put in motion here is visionary. I like being here.”

His work is not going unnoticed. On February 2, Crosby took six students to the Valley for the FFA Superstition Regional Poultry Evaluation Career Development Event. The competition tests students’ skills in the production, processing and marketing of chickens, turkeys, processed poultry products and eggs.

The first-place team comprised six students—Reagan Powel, Lilly Light, Andrew Brown, Jessa Wilson, Stacy Holsome and John-Wayne Francisco—four of whom are from Miami.

“Jimmy has done a wonderful job building our FFA chapter at the school,” says MHS Principal Shawn Pietila. “Our hope is to create a program that will rival any other in the state.”

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