SHERRARD — “It’s an honor,” said Bill Hammes, Sherrard High School agriculture instructor, about being named the Conservation Teacher of the Year this month by the Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts (AISWCD), Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and the Illinois Audubon Society.
The award comes on the heels of an award he won in June. Hammes was chosen as Illinois Section 3 winnner of the Excellence in Teaching Award for Ag Education from the National Association of Agricultural Educators. He was nominated by Sherrard School District Superintendent Alan Boucher. There are 25 sections in the state of Illinois.
Hammes said his awards were made possible by the district’s support of the agriculture program.
“I couldn’t be more pleased to work with this group of people. ... The administration, teachers, and the students that come through the program — they’re all fantastic,” Hammes said.
This isn’t the first time he’s won a conservation award. When he was teaching at Central City High School north of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, his class received the Environmental Youth Group Award in the 1980s. In the early 2000s, he was the state winner of an Iowater Award (Iowa Water) for water quality testing.
“The basic concepts that I think everyone needs to know about — preserving the land, keeping the water in good quality — those are the things the award recognizes,” Hammes said.
In a recommendation letter, Rich Stewart, Rock Island County resource conservationist, praised Hammes’ work. “Through Bill’s efforts, Sherrard High School has developed an outdoor learning campus that includes a half-acre garden and greenhouse and 50 acres of cropland for corn and soybean variety plot trails.
"Cereal rye has been recently used on the corn-bean plot so students and area farmers can view how cover crops work on an average farm.”
The skills Hammes has taught students include how to measure the flow rate of a stream and how to collect water samples to test for dissolved oxygen and levels of nitrates in the water.
Hammes has integrated the use of GPS and GIS technology to teach students how to make decisions for their FFA chapter’s crop ground. They analyzed a plot of land and determined which soil management techniques would be best for that area.
Students in the Ag Science class even used Google Maps to view the chapter’s crop ground. They identified areas of potential erosion and discussed potential solutions.
“After walking through the fields, the students determined that the soil loss was minimal on the steepest area, so we should continue the existing no-till approach to the row crop ground. They also wanted to give the cover-crop test plot another year before expanding it to the remainder of the fields,” Hammes said.
In August 2017, Hammes and his students helped coordinate a Cover Crop Tour through a three-county area in western Illinois for 40 farmers and others.
“I hosted the meeting location for the group, coordinated a bus for the group, served as one of the pit sites on the FFA crop ground, and coordinated the use of our school for the wrap-up meeting and meal,” Hammes said.
Hammes is impressed by his students' accomplishments.
“Students from the Sherrard FFA Chapter have given presentations to several area organizations, including a Farm Bureau group and the school board. We are planning an in-depth presentation when we get more data gathered from our efforts with both the stream water quality assessments and our work with our erosion control practices,” he said.
Student involvement doesn’t end with the last day of school. Over the summer, FFA members have cultivated crops to serve local food pantries for the third year. They are on track to donate over 3,000 pounds of produce this fall, including tomatoes, squash, peppers, potatoes and more.
"Most probably there are a number of students at Sherrard School District that benefit from this," Hammes said.
His students said he's had a positive impact on their lives. "He's there to be able to support me and tell me it's going to be OK. Having somebody like that makes me more confident," said incoming senior Remi Cook, FFA chapter president.
Hammes said FFA members are always brainstorming new ideas about how they can support the community. "The community supports us so well, we try to think of ways to give back," he said.
Hammes will be formally recognized as Conservation Teacher of the Year during the Illinois State Fair in August in Springfield.
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