Gilmore City: Where elementary students tackle Ag entrepreneurship

Gilmore City Bradgate Elementary These are the elementary students at Gilmore City-Bradgate Elementary participating in the "Shark Tank" project. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Upah

Students at Gilmore City-Bradgate are working on their own AgTech startup.

It’s part of a unique Seed to Table program at Gilmore City Bradgate Elementary, roughly 30 miles north of Fort Dodge. Students in fifth and sixth grade meet twice-a-week for a half hour with Kelsey Upah, a registered dietitian and the district’s Seed to Table Manager.

The Seed to Table program partners with the school lunch program and teaches students about planting the plants, caring and preparing them, plus ways to help their families in their food search.

“It’s a way to combine agriculture and nutrition,” Upah says. “Our superintendent is really interested in the health of students and how it affects their mind and their ability to write, read and focus in school. And it just makes sense to have a gardening program where you have the best farmland in the United States.”

Their latest project was inspired by the television show, “Shark Tank.” Upah heard a high school business class that had done something similar but she wanted to tweak it for elementary students and her program. Then after meeting Megan Vollstedt of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator at the World Food Prize last year, an idea came to fruition.

Upah is working with fifth and sixth graders to come up with solutions to an agriculture-related problem and turn it into a business. They will present their product and company at a pitch night on May 17.

“I thought it would be a great way to get them thinking innovatively in ways to help the agriculture world and relate it back to gardening,” Upah says.

Upah said four other teachers and the school librarian are also helping students to come up with a business plan (math), marketing materials (literacy) and the product.

“That’s how the real world works, not learning one subject at a time it’s all put together all the time,” Upah said. “So it’s important to hone in on those skills, especially at a young age.”

Find a problem first

Vollstedt says she will check in once a month with the project and be a judge on May 17.

She joined the class during a video call last month as the project was getting started and offered her advice.

“I suggested they look outside the box at problems and solutions,” Vollstedt said. “Possibly the best solutions are the simplest, so I encouraged them to be creative but really identify a problem and find the best way to solve that.”

Some of the ideas the class has come up with include:

  • Solar powered chicken tractor
  • Self-seeding deer food plot
  • Combining animal shelters with agriculture, including large animals such as pigs, cattle and horses.

“We will practice what it’s like to do a pitch, bidding and negotiating,” Upah explained. “So far some of their ideas are really surprising and what they come up with that they see are problems that sometimes as adults you overlook. They look at smaller, minute details.”

Upah said she hasn’t come across another Food to Table Manager in Iowa and the only other school district she’s seen this program in, was in California.

“We can open up so many doors for our students and teach them so many more things besides the basics,” Upah says. “They get to create something that’s their own.”