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If you've read Jim Collins's Good to Great, that may make a bit more sense than if you haven't. to catch you up/recap - the Hedgehog Concept is this:  a hedgehog is good at one thing in the world - curl up in spiny little sphere and hence protect itself.  The hedgehog's adversary, the fox (apparently this parable happened in England), knows many clever ways to catch it's prey.  But not the hedgehog; a hedgehog doesn't fight with teeth.  It doesn't claw the competition.  It doesn't run.  It knows one big, really important, simple thing.  And that's what it does.  It curls up in a ball.  Really well.


So the concept is the basis of decision-making for a business or organization and what they should be doing.  There are three intersecting circles (not that you've ever seen a diagram like that before) that make up the Hedgehog Concept:
- What are you deeply passionate about?

- What can you be the best in the world at?

- What best drives your economic (or resource) engine?


This was the topic of conversation the other day in my Ag Business, Leadership, and Economics class.  It's a new class this year that only took me four years and - literally - convincing our local community college to create a class so we could articulate it and get it onto the books.  But I digress... I am absolutely loving this class for two reasons - one, the topic is interesting as all get out to me, and secondly the kids in it are the (sorry, showing off my street-cred.  Is street-cred hyphenated?).  The class has rotated against our Horticulture class, so much of the instruction is applied to our greenhouse as a business.


It was in our early planning of The Business (we haven't named it yet, we just refer to it as The Business.  You know, like The Family.  Or The Great Escape.  Or The Mob) as we wrote a mission statement, determined its purpose and values, and designed the vision for our enterprise.  And they've come up with some pretty darn good stuff.  Early in this planning we brought up the Hedgehog Concept, and applied it to our Business.  Knowing we had a greenhouse at our disposal, but no rule saying we had to use it to grow plants, we drew the familiar overlapping three circles and looked at what would put us in the middle where the three circles overlapped.

- What were we passionate about?

- What could we be the best at?

- What would drive our economic engine?


As we facilitated our way through the planning processes and made decisions based on the three criteria of the Hedgehog Concept (were we passionate about running a business?  Creating a service?  Designing boutonnieres with analogous color schemes?) I made the point that this does not just apply to businesses - any organization or even an individual can utilize the Hedgehog Concept.  In fact, I challenged, if you can find a career that you are passionate about, that you can strive to be the best at (note:  it doesn't say you have to be the best, just could be), and that will be economically sustainable, then you'll have it made.  And be ahead of about 97% of the rest of the world.


These juniors and seniors and I have been around been around the bend together a time or two, so they're fairly unafraid to ask questions.  And this one was immediate but unexpected:  "Mr Crawford, have you found your hedgehog concept?  Is it teaching?"


I should probably say I had already considered this question.  Or maybe I should say I gave it some intense consideration before responding.  But that isn't the truth.  Yet my response was immediate.  And unprepared.  "Yes."


I didn't give a lot of detail, but I don't think I had to.  I do think I'm as close to the middle of those intersecting circles as I can be in any field.  I am very much passionate about what I do.  I don't have to be the best ag teacher in the world, but I think I have it in me to do the best job for SHS that I can as an agriculture educator.  And while I can't say I'm getting rich, the job pays the bills.  I do think I've found my Hedgehog.


Although it was that third part that was the least believable by my students.  In fact, that question from the senior student was qualified with "Well, except for the third circle (economic), because teachers don't get paid enough.  Other than that, have you?"


Out of the mouths of kids.  I hope that, someday, they find their Hedgehogs too.



Have you found your Hedgehog?

How do you know?

How do you help your students find theirs?

Matt Eddy

Snow Day Archeology

Posted by Matt Eddy Feb 27, 2013

If your anything like me -- and let's face it -- I hope your not; snow days represent the gift of time.  And since I was already at school when it was called off - you can't turn your back on a gift like that.


An Ag Teachers list of things to do is never done, and much like farming - there is always something to preoccupy your time when mother nature keeps you from your primary intention that day.  For me - I have turned my back on most of that important list and have decided to clean my desk.  Yes, I said it.  CLEAN MY DESK!  Can you hear my students laughing from their snow-bound houses right now?


I'd like to think that a cluttered desk is the mark of genius at work, but likely it just means I don't mind working in the midst of chaos.


Things I found:

  • A purchase order from 2011 for some horticulture supplies I didn't need that year.
  • An invoice that I had already requested, and handed in, a replacement.
  • Some homework from last week that needed graded.  Some from last month too.
  • A Hummert Supply Catalog from 2008/2009 - the purple edition
  • Various pens and pencils that I thought were lost and it turns out they weren't
  • 36 Clorox wipes worth of dust bunnies hiding behind my computer monitor.


As I worked through each pile - it was like an archaeological dig in old Egypt.  Everything was piled according to importance, time of receipt, time of due date and several other various organizational methods - sometimes I could even tell where it changed methods.




Well - now that I've gotten that accomplished, I better get to work on something from my list of chores.... or I could blog a bit... oooh, look shiny stuff....


I hope your snow days are filled with productivity and a bit of frivolity as well.


Share your best snow day frivolousness!


Follow the fun on Twitter:  @AgEd4ME

A Time to Grow

Posted by Tiffany Morey Feb 23, 2013

This year's National FFA theme of "Grow" is so applicable to what we do as agricultural educators. Not only do literally grow things in our school greenhouses and on our school farms, but we teach our students the skills that they need to pursue careers and further studies in agriculture and help them grow as people. They are the future of the field of agriculture, and it is our job to help them "grow" properly to develop into strong leaders and team players.


The chapter vice president shows off his growth as a leader (even when blindfolded!)


These past few weeks, while they have been absolutely exhausting and insanely busy, have been ones of tremendous growth for my students and my program. The program was recognized at the State of Essex County Address by our county executive and a video of the many changes it has undergone was selected to be used by the NJ Dept. of CTE to promote CTE Month. The program signed its first articulation agreement with Delaware Valley College in PA and students will be eligible to receive up to 8 credits (3 college classes) for completing CASE Plant and Animal Science. This was a HUGE step for the program and has been something I have wanted to put into place for several years.


Growing ag foods and dairy products knowledge through making ice cream for FFA Week!


The Valentine's Day Flower Sale was more successful than it's ever been and that was due entirely to the FFA officer team stepping up and making things happen. Not only did they make sure orders were taken and delivered, but they ensured that the arrangements looked beautiful, even if it meant taking time outside of class to do so. They blew me away with their growth as leaders and in terms of maturity, and I am proud to get to work with them every single day.


Growing ag business skills by making  Valentine's Day bouquets.


FFA Week also brought a lot of growth in terms of the chapter coming together as a team. They planned a busy, but fun week of activities and pulled all of them off. From promoting FFA Week beforehand, to prepping for and assisting in running the lunch activities even though they only has 20 minutes to help and eat, to taking great pictures and encouraging the new FFA members to get involved, they made this FFA Week an awesome experience! Whether it was making FFA inspired ice cream class, sampling milk and cheese during lunches, seeing who could make the best milk mustache, milking the cow on the iPads, Skyping with new FFA friends from NE, or participating in a workshop with a State FFA Officer, the amount of growth in the agricultural knowledge and teamwork skills of the FFA members was significant!


Growing teamwork skills and performing a successful team push up!


In the classroom, there has also been much growth in terms of the students desire to learn about more about agriculture. They're asking great questions and are putting pride into their work. For the first time, students have expressed an interest pursuing their studies of agriculture outside of the classroom on their own time beyond what is required for their SAE. As an urban ag teacher whose students do not come from an ag background, this is HUGE! A student absolutely blew me away when she came in to class with several types of bulbs that she had ordered online with her own money all because she wanted to test out what she learned in class about how putting bulbs into the fridge and then taking them out would speed up growth. Our greenhouse is now home to her beautifully blooming bulbs (pics to follow in my next blog post), and she has decided to use the remaining ones to plant a garden outside our school. Now that is growth!



Celebrating our growth as a chapter by enjoying FFA-themed ice cream!


Being ag teachers, we plant the seeds of the future. However, our work does not stop there. Day in and day out we nurture and care for our "seeds" to make sure that they grow up properly. We are growing the future of agriculture one student at a time. If that isn't an important type of growth, then I don't know what is.


Some of my "seeds" and I showing off our FFA spirit!


Look for s'Morey soon.



Did you ever wonder if all you ever really needed to know in life, you learned in a livestock sale barn.


Sale day is easily one of my favorite days in farm life - and not just for the payday.  As a child, it most likely was for the candy bar I would receive from the small convenience store outside the livestock auction for good behavior.

Community - If you've never been to a livestock auction, its easy to see the importance of community.  Whether official or not, it's the next best thing to the old time switchboard operator.  You find out all the happenings in the community, catch up on the latest news, who's doing well, and who isn't.  You can get the weather report for the next 3 days or next 3 years; determine if any mentioned piece of equipment is really a good buy - sometimes 1st hand, but sometimes from a guy who knows a guy.  The flow of information is fast and continuous.


Pie - If the sale barn cafe is worth it's salt you'll find the best lemon meringue, chocolate raisin or butterscotch pie someplace within and will be counting the days until you return.


Anthropology -- the same two guys will be sitting at the counter drinking coffee no matter how long it's been since you were there last.  A little like Statler and Waldorf of the Muppet show, they are usually full of laughs, good advice, and a certain cynicism - not necessarily in that order - nor that equitable of balance.  But it's always a place for people to see and be seen and enjoy a bit of fellowship.


Caveat Emptor -- lessons are sometimes learned in real time and with real money.  Sometimes it's best to do your own homework, instead of copying your neighbor and varied opinions are very easy to come buy.  Evaluating all the of the information present and making real-time well informed decisions is imperative.  Sometimes you even get more than 5 seconds to think about it.


On Friday, I sacrificed my staff in-service on technology and a select volunteer crew of my Advanced Animal Science students sacrificed their morning to sleep in, to load and sell our calves from the Animal Learning Center.  I must say that it was an educational day and the students were put in a situation to apply their education to a new and variable real-world situation.


We started early and by sun-up we had the calves loaded and we headed for the sale barn.  Big thanks to a former student for coming back and helping out by trucking for us.


Thanks for reading along.  Next week is National FFA week, a bevy of activities and our sub district LDE contests on Thursday.  And the mayhem is augmented by a winter storm on Thursday threatening to dump a foot of snow.  Guess it won't be boring.


"Remember, I'm pulling for you. We're all in this together."



Jessie Lumpkins

Remembering Taylor

Posted by Jessie Lumpkins Feb 13, 2013

*Parents/students related to this blog are ok with me sharing stories.*


This post has little to do with my classroom or a CDE, but everything to do with how amazing it is to be an agriculture teacher and be a part of a student's life.


A year ago Monday on February 11, 2012, one of my students in Livestock Management - Taylor - got in his truck leaving work, and was in a fatal car accident. He was one of the most kind-hearted young men I have ever had the pleasure of teaching. He participated in the Soil Judging CDE and attended FFA Camp with us. He was also the youngest person to be certified through the Tennessee Master Beef Program. Most of our school knew him and anyone who did was his friend. He was thought of and remembered during the past year, but especially yesterday. When Taylor was a freshmen, his Agriscience class wrote personal creeds to coincide with the studying of the FFA Creed. This is what he wrote, with bits and pieces of a letter he wrote to Temple Grandin taped to it (two papers I still had of his).

IMG_2907.JPGWe  built and installed a picnic table in his honor at FFA Camp

Clements in Doyle, TN. Hopefully when members sit and enjoy their time at camp, they'll learn a little bit about him. I am proud of how FFA members ALWAYS rally as a family and support each other.



Now I know this is a heavy topic (and for any pre-service teachers, know that the majority of your days are fun-filled and lighthearted), but I bring it up to share with you another story: On Monday (the one year anniversary of Taylor's passing), one of my officers who is pictured above was in an accident on her way to school. She is safe (and back at school today!) - but when I think of how easily the outcome could have been different, I am so thankful that her seat in my room was not empty for long. (The picture below is of her accident. She wasn't texting or anything, just reaching down to open a bottle.)





What we do as agriculture teachers is life-changing. We are charged with sending career-ready students into the world with the enthusiasm they had their freshman year coupled with the wisdom of a senior. We don't just prepared students for the real world, but arm them with tools and the mindset to be excited for it. Yet the small things matter, too. Talking with the students and hearing about their weekend plans each Friday, then getting an update each Monday. Knowing what animals students have and their names, and asking about them. Understanding the personalities of each of your unique students, and ensuring they all feel welcome and included. We cannot control what happens to a student once they walk out of our classroom, but we can make sure they are safe, loved and cared for when they are in the four walls of a classroom, shop, greenhouse, or barn.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to do that every day!

Jessie Lumpkins

We've got issues...

Posted by Jessie Lumpkins Feb 5, 2013

We've got issues...


IMG_3429 - Copy.JPGAg Issues, that is. Spring semester is in full swing and we've focused on only a few CDEs including the Ag Issues Forum. This is in contrast to a couple of years ago when the goal was to attend to win each CDE that year. I'm finding myself more at ease with the quality over quantity. Our issue this year deals with Tennessee Walking Horses, so we had one of our presentations be made to an inspector who visited school.

2013-02-02 08.43.17.jpgI woke up early this Saturday morning to snow and conducted phone interviews for students in the East TN Job Interview contest. I loved that I was sitting on my recliner sipping on a cup of coffee (with bedhead and no makeup) and was still able to help FFA members! They were all impressive in their own way. Even though my student will be competing against two of them during State Convention, I was still very glad I got to give them feedback and help them improve.


Thursday night we competed in the Opening & Closing and Parliamentary Procedure events at our sectional level and despite not advancing, I'm always proud. The parli team is actually really awesome for how young they are, and I can see them being dynamite this time next year.


I also had 7 seniors qualify for the State FFA Degree that night, the most I've submitted at once. Keeping in mind that we have 75 members total, 9% received their State Degree and that's a number as a single teacher that I'm proud of.


In class, I still have the challenge of not being able to use any live animals for Vet Science or Small Animal Care due to county policy. As frustrated as I get, we find interesting and fun ways to overcome it. Today we began a week-long lesson on Pet Loss and Grief. This was something I wanted to talk about later in the year, after I heard about the passing of Barney (President George W. Bush's Scottish terrier), I thought this would be a great time to incorporate this interesting and useful lesson. We talked today about why losing a pet is so difficult, and the methods owners utilize to mourn a pet. Some interesting contributions included those who stuff/taxidermy their deceased pets!


We're also going to discuss the role a vet plays to a grieving pet owner and what steps they can take in a companion animal career to help people during that time. Tomorrow I plan to show them a site that specializes in pet loss cards from a vet, and then allow my students to design their own. Technology, English, and Ag all coming together; gotta love it!


Fetal pig dissections will begin Wednesday in Agriscience. This used to be an activity that I felt inept at but after having an awesome mentor my first year, it gets better and better each time. I have a challenging (but spirited and fun!) group of freshmen this year who need some extra motivation from time to time. I finally had to be firm and say that those who are missing assignments or failing will not be allowed to do the dissection; this brought all of the grades but 2 (out of 40 students) up to at least passing! Most were already very high Bs and As anyway. I love that they are being motivated by hands-on activities, even if the only animals we can play with right now are dead!


See you Wednesday, Babe!

The Upswing

Posted by Tiffany Morey Feb 5, 2013

The school year is already half way over. That is just crazy! January brought its usually batch of the post-holiday winter doldrums, but now the upswing of February is upon us! Even though it's been frigidly cold here in NJ and snows almost every night, the darkest days of winter are over. The groundhog predicted that we will have an early spring, the days are getting longer, and the sun even feels warmer!


Looking at sugar from the sun.


February is one of my favorite months as an ag teacher. The FFA chapter holds it's annual Valentine's Day Flower Sale, which is our biggest fundraiser of the year. As of next Monday, the classroom will be filled with several hundred roses and carnations that my students will turn into bouquets and arrangements to sell to the students and staff in our school. I'm not much of a floral designer, but the FFA members enjoy this project, and they use it as practice for the Floral Design CDE that is held in March.


Building blooms in CASE AFNR


February is also the time for FFA Week! The FFA members have been hard at work planning a week of fun and educational "agtivities" for our entire school to enjoy. This year, the members have chosen to take elements of their favorite CDEs and CASE activities and turn them into lunchtime challenges for their fellow students to try. They also planned a "wear blue and gold day" as well as FFA trivia and facts for the morning announcements each day. Last week, their hard work paid off in the form of winning the state FFA Week Award at convention, and they want to make this year's events even better!


This is what happens when students accidentally let Vernier CO2 sensors go for a swim. Luckily it dried out and is still fully functional!


FFA membership has reached an all time high as well! Last year, our chapter had less than 15 active members. This year, we have 20 and the number keeps rising! Many of the freshmen who have gone through the Exploratory Ag course are showing interest in choosing ag as their CTE pathway. We've invited many of them to come to our FFA Advocacy and Legislative Leadership Day at the end of this month, and our chapter will be taking a record 20 students to this event! I had to order another set of chapter jackets to accomodate all the new members, but I can't wait to see so many students in blue jackets with the Essex Co VTS Agriscience name on the back!


Chilling to be safe.


Things are going well in the classroom too. We have decided to add the CASE Animal and Plant Biotechnology course for next year. This will bring the number of CASE offerings up to 4, and the students are really excited about the new challenges that APB will present to them! The program is also in the final stages up setting up its first articulation agreement! We got a verbal confirmation from a 4 year college known for it's excellent ag program, and are just waiting to sign the paperwork to make it official. Once that is complete, students who choose to attend the college will receive 6 credits (3 for ASP and 3 for ASA) and our program will officially become a program of study!


The CASE ASA class is on fire!


Things are also moving forward with the greenhouse transformation. The heating system has been fixed and all of our plants are blooming and growing like crazy! The new tables are being built, and we have a trip planned to visit a hydroponic greenhouse so that students can see the different types of systems that we can install in our greenhouse. The woman who runs the greenhouse will be coming to our school to help the students build and set up the  system and we hope to have it up and running this spring! Students will have the option to intern at the county hydroponic greenhouse again this summer, and we have also secured paid internship positions for several students at The Presby Memorial Iris Garden.


Amaryllis blooming in the greenhouse


Even though the bright and sunny days of spring and summer are still far off, the ag program is already feeling their warmth thanks to all these exciting this we have on the horizon! The students are pumped for the opportunities that await them in the coming months, and even though things are going to get a lot more crazy and hectic, their enthusiasm makes it worth it. Winter might not be over just yet, but the upswing into spring has arrived! The rest of this month is going to be insane, but I will try to get another blog post out if I can. Have fun prepping for FFA Week and look for s'Morey soon!




If you doubted whether there is any usefulness to that newfangled social media, watching my Facebook Feed/Twitterverse blow up last night during the Super Bowl should have provided your answer.


Don't know about you, but late-breaking research (read: past 24 hours) suggests my Facebook friends are (by demographic):

29% Ag Educators

46% former FFA members

22% agriculturalists

1% people I went to high school with and haven't talked to since

2% San Francisco 49ers fans (we're on the West Coast, people)


The apostalyptic response to Ram's Year of the Farmer was not limited to my own social network, I know.  I was actually out of the room when the commercial first came on (I know!).  I walked in just as the emblem flashed up at the end and my wife saying "you just missed the best commercial...".  Naturally, I jumped online and Googled it, and found the video on YouTube, all of 2 minutes old but already at 301 views.  At 9am PST today, YouTube claimed just over 1 million views of the video.  By this evening, the 3 million mark had been breached (combining all the times it has been reposted on YouTube channels, even when you subtract all the ag rooms where the ag teacher showed it to all 5/6/7 of their classes, that's not bad).


So what do we take from this?  Incidentally, we've proven the possibility of what I've yet to see happen:  the explosion of a positive and meaningful message so effectively, so quickly through social media.  We've confirmed the very strong feelings held by those associated with and appreciative of American agriculture.  We've shown the power of an engaged, supportive community, whether that is in your town or across the network.  We can say 'we' because the whole engine of this idea being carried this far has been all of us.


And we've helped take FFA mainstream again.  We haven't done that for a while, not truly nationwide.  FFA has a strong reputation in our community and school, but that doesn't mean some of our students don't have to continually justify their 'ag stuff' to friends, coaches, and families.  But the quote of the day may have been one of our best students triumphantly exclaiming "To all those who make fun of my FFA involvement, I didn't see YOUR organizations during the Super Bowl!"


Agriculture and FFA for the win.  Ram and a million social-media savvy agriculturalists with the assist.


Thank you to the many supporters who make this organization the influence it can be for more than half-a-million students a year.

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