COLUMBUS — Taylor Engel climbed into the cab of a John Deere 4955 around 5:30 a.m. Friday, hours before the sun would appear to warm the chilly air.
As a farmer’s son, Engel is used to the early mornings, but this trip was about more than tending to the family’s 900 acres. It was about tradition.
Engel was one of 16 Lakeview students who drove a tractor to the high school that day, a custom that began about a decade ago.
It took Engel an hour to make the drive from his family’s farm between and Silver Creek, but he believes it’s worth it for the attention the stunt draws to agriculture.
“Farmers don’t get to show off much,” Engel said. “It’s mostly hard work and labor.”
During National FFA Week, however, Lakeview Community Schools takes time to celebrate crop and livestock producers.
Lakeview’s FFA (Future Farmers of America) chapter planned events such as human foosball, a breakfast and a scavenger hunt to get students excited.
The goal, according to Wade Hilker, is to inform people about farming and livestock production to ensure they know where food and other products come from.
“Without us and other people involved in agriculture, people don’t have resources. They don’t eat,” said Hilker, an agricultural education teacher and FFA adviser at Lakeview.
Outside the school, a group of students dressed in their usual school attire — worn-in boots, Carhartt and Pioneer coats and ball caps — were eager to talk about their tractor of choice.
From a $300,000 John Deere 8345RT to an old Ford, the implements were on display for everyone to see.
One student even braved the conditions on a cabless John Deere 3020, driving the rough-looking tractor eight miles to school.
“That kid’s face was purple when he came in,” said Hilker, who called the decision “serious dedication.”
Hilker knows the rural school district can find itself on the receiving end of jokes — getting nicknames like “Cow Pie High” — but it doesn’t faze the 87 FFA members.
“The best part about this is these students really are advocates for what they do,” Hilker said.
Hilker hopes to see FFA programs spread to larger school districts such a Columbus Public as a way to decrease the distance between agriculture and younger generations.
“If they’re uninformed, they can make some very poor decisions about agriculture when it comes to voting,” said Hilker.
For Engel, the decision to continue the family farm was made years ago.
“It’s really become more than just work,” he said. “It’s kind of become a life experience.”
That experience gets better when you can drive a tractor to school, even if motorists on 33rd Avenue give you funny looks and flip the bird.
“You just smile and wave,” Engel said.