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May 23, 2003

Vogels work, live and mentor at student farm

Jeanne and Greg vogel
Jeanne and Greg Vogel share a bright spring moment on the ISU student management farm with their dog Mike. Photo by Bob Elbert.
by Barbara McManus, Ag Information Services
When Greg Vogel goes to work, he walks out his back door to his office -- a 1,300-acre, farrow-to-finish hog farm. He's the farm operator for the College of Agriculture's 450 Farm, the only student-managed livestock and crop operation in the nation. Working at the farm is a dream come true for Vogel.

"I get the opportunity to do what I like. I also get the opportunity to be associated with young people, and that allows me to teach them things I have experienced and also to learn from them," Vogel said.

Each semester, 40 students in the agricultural education and studies 450 class ("Farm Management and Operation") begin making management decisions for the farm. The farm is three miles south of the Iowa State campus and is the setting for the hands-on management class required for students majoring in agricultural studies.

Vogel said he's the constant at the farm. He knows the day-to-day operation of the farm, which is useful when the management changes every semester.

"I tell the students, I'm the reality check. I'm their source of information when it comes to the daily operation of the farm," Vogel said. "I also tell them that this isn't the farm back home, it's the 450 Farm and it has its own set of needs."

Lots to learn
Students enter the class as juniors or seniors with lots of theories and little management experience. Vogel advises students to gather information from several sources before making decisions for the farm.

"That's why William Murray started this class 60 years ago," Vogel said, "because theory only works in a perfect world and we don't live in a perfect world."

Vogel talks about his passion for farming and working with young people. He also talks about the importance of helping students find their passion.

"Work is where you go to do the things you like to do," Vogel said. "If you don't enjoy your work, life gets pretty long."

Vogel is starting his 12th year at the farm and said he couldn't do the job without support from his wife, Jeanne, a secretary in the athletic department. She and Greg were married six years ago and for her, farm life was a new experience.

"I'm from a small town in northwest Iowa and living on a farm took some getting used to. You don't know what each day will bring," Jeanne said. "During planting season, Greg can be in the field until 9:30 at night. I'd like it if he had an 8-to-5 job, but that's not going to happen."

Greg and Jeanne sit across from one another in a kitchen that resembles many older farm homes in Iowa. They talk about inviting students in for breakfast on a Sunday morning after chores or just having them stop after class. Greg emphasizes that their home is always open to students. He hopes this helps students understand the importance of developing relationships and working with neighbors.

"You need others; you can't operate a business in a bubble. You have to develop relationships and communicate with people," Greg said

Lots to do
Like any farm operation, the schedule is hectic. Greg may have plans for the day when he walks out the door at 7:15 a.m., "but my plans can change three times before 8 a.m. because of an emergency, a call from the university or a request for a tour. You have to have a high degree of flexibility to work here," Greg said.

Along with his job as a farm operator and educator, Greg also helps out with tours for the several hundred visitors each year who come to see how the farm operates. In May, Ames middle school students visited to learn more about agriculture.

"We try to show them that it's not just sows, plows and cows," Greg said. "It's a lot of technical things and because of technology, we are able to do a better job. We want students to see that we are environmentally friendly and sustainable."

In the 450 classroom, seed caps, sweatshirts and jeans are standard attire. That's fitting since students may help with chores, equipment repairs or planting after class. On this day, students are presenting year-end reports on all aspects of the farm. The recommendations these students make will affect the farm's future. When the discussion turns to questions about possible purchases, the students turn to Greg for advice.

"I think a lot of the students respect Greg and value his opinions. I can see that in his relationships with the students," Jeanne said.

It's obvious both Jeanne and Greg enjoy life. They laugh easily and talk about how much they enjoy the students and the farm.

"It's one of those things that you realize when you are driving back from town and you see the silhouette of the farm at sunset. And I'll tell Jeanne, 'This is why we live in Iowa,'" Greg said.

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Published by: University Relations,
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