Both Johnstown-Monroe and Northridge high schools said good-bye to their vocational agriculture teachers this summer, but those programs are expected to be up and running when classes resume later this month.

Both Johnstown-Monroe and Northridge high schools said good-bye to their vocational agriculture teachers this summer, but those programs are expected to be up and running when classes resume later this month.

Debra Burden, who headed up the vo-ag and FFA programs at Johnstown-Monroe High School for 10 years, has taken a position at Fredericktown, while Northridge's Ryan Rismiller has joined the staff at Marion Harding. Burden's replacement has yet to be named; Eric Valentine, from the Amanda Clearcreek area and most recently a teacher at South-Western City Schools, will head up the program at Northridge.

Northridge Superintendent John Shepard said the district has a strong vocational agricultural program that gives students an advantage in what has become a growing sector of the economy.

"It's an integral part of our program here in Northridge," Shepard said. "The face of farming and ag science has changed over the years, but many of our students go on to careers that are directly related to what they learned here. If you go into nutrition or food manufacturing, the background here is important."

Ohio has more than 300 high school FFA programs with more than 23,000 students participating. Projects include the fields of forestry, biotechnology, marketing, food processing, wildlife and natural resource management and economics and public policy.

Shepard said there is also growth even in local family farming as consumer tastes change.

"Many of our family farms are passing to new generations," Shepard said. "Organic farming is becoming more popular."

The FFA program supplements students' general education in ways that are surprising to those unfamiliar with the program, Shepard said.

"The program teaches them about business, about science, about social studies," Shepard said. "Our FFA students are some of our best public speakers. It makes them well rounded individuals. And it doesn't matter if they live on a farm or in one of the villages, they still benefit."

Shepard said the district was dedicated to keeping the program as a high priority.

"It's important that we keep that program strong," Shepard said. "So many people outside that program don't understand its importance. Food production is a huge business. Some of the larger central Ohio businesses, Anheuser Busch, for example, are big employers in the area who work in that industry.

"Our students get a solid background here," he said, "and they'll have an edge over students from a school that does not have this program."