Tag Archives: Bryan High School

New Agriculture Program Aimed at Youth

April 12, 2017 by
Photography by Shannon Smith

People are increasingly moving away from farms and into suburban areas and cities, but a need for farming still exists. USDA Deputy Undersecretary Ann Bartuska and Rep. Don Bacon toured the Omaha Home for Boys’ Cooper Memorial Farm April 12 in support of a new urban agriculture program in Nebraska.

The program comes from a partnership between the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, and Omaha Home for Boys. Their initiative is driven by a need to produce and market local, healthy food, address food deserts in Omaha, and encourage entrepreneurship and sustainable economic development.

USDA Deputy Undersecretary Ann Bartuska speaks with guests about urban agricultural initiatives throughout the country.

Leaders of the organizations joined together for the tour in anticipation of what the partnership will hold. Students in an urban agriculture program from Omaha Bryan High School were in attendance as well, representing the future of agriculture and urban farming.

“This urban agriculture concept is important because, as we consolidate off the farms into the cities, there’s still a demand for agriculture jobs out there, and we need to put people in touch with this vital industry that’s so important to our country,” Bacon says.

Bartuska notes that 80 percent of Americans reside in urban areas.

Rep. Don Bacon gets a chance to interact with a calf alongside the high school students.

While this number alone is astounding, Ron Rosati Ph.D., Dean of the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, shares that the world population is predicted to increase from its 7 billion today to 9 billion by 2050. This expected increase, according to Rosati, is going to require a 70 percent increase in food production—which is why it is important to get young people involved, considering that their generation will need to tackle the task of providing for an increasingly urbanized population.

The students of Bryan High, who boast the largest Future Farmers of America chapter in the state, toured the farm, where they learned more about how the facility operates.

According to student Abril Serrato, the FFA students have access to a hydroponic AgroBox, where they grow tomatoes, lettuce, jalapeños, and more without soil. In the future, Bryan High hopes to start an aquaponics system—which takes the waste from farmed fish and other aquatic animals to supply nutrients for plants grown in water. They also received a grant for a greenhouse.

Bacon refers to agriculture as “a national resource and national treasure that we’ve got to protect,” and stressed the importance of teaching youth about the importance of the field.

A guest of honor, Bacon speaks to the crowd about the importance of the urban agriculture movement in Nebraska. Bacon serves on the House Agriculture Committee, with assignment on the Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Sub-committee.

Poetic Healing

June 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The poet Longfellow famously wrote, “Into each life some rain must fall.” By that logic, Omaha poet Traci Schacht has survived a series of torrential downpours.

At age 12, Schacht’s mentally ill mother left her negligent father, forcing Schacht to care for herself. That same year, she would turn her first trick and enter her first foster home.

“It was an easy way to make money, but I was too young to know what it all meant,” she says. “To me, it just meant food—chicken versus corn flakes. The cops picked me up and that’s when ‘home’ changed from home to group homes to foster homes.”

Though they’ve since reconciled, Schacht vividly recalls being rejected by her mother, who swiftly remarried and took in her siblings but told a troubled 13-year-old Schacht that she wasn’t welcome.

“My family didn’t want me. That’s when I changed, stopped caring, became violent,” says Schacht, who also escalated her experimentation with drugs. “I so badly wanted my mom to rescue me, to come hug me, tell me everything would be okay. I was so scared and alone.”

TraciSchacht1She was headed to lockup when Boys Town accepted her, moving Schacht in a better direction. After graduating she attended Nebraska Wesleyan, earning a theater degree.   

Next, Schacht moved around a lot—Chicago, Houston, San Francisco—but the places she’s been emotionally and intellectually are the most compelling parts of her story. For example, she traveled vast distances politically, from serving as V.P. of the college Young Republicans in Nebraska to fighting against the death penalty with “a bunch of Marxists” in San Francisco.

In 2007, back in Omaha, the storm continued. Schacht survived a horrible car wreck that crushed her legs, arm, and part of her neck. Her legs were saved but she had trouble walking. In 2010, Schacht requested and received a right leg below-knee amputation, hoping to resume some favorite activities like kayaking as a result. After a subsequent total knee replacement went wrong and infection set in, the leg was amputated above-knee.

“I just bawled. I didn’t want to be an above-knee amputee because it’s harder to walk and you can’t do everything. But eventually I got this cool, computerized leg,” Schacht says, hiking up a pant leg to proudly display the high-tech limb she got in 2013. “Now I’m walking, after years in a wheelchair. I’m
so thankful.”

Schacht’s also grateful for a fateful meeting with a medical van driver who, in the course of transporting her home from the hospital, changed her life.

“He offered to read me a poem he’d written,” says Schacht. “I thought, ‘Oh no, this is gonna be some cheesy poetry.’ But it was this awesome, political slam poetry I hadn’t heard before, and I loved it.”

Schacht befriended the driver, who convinced her to try writing poetry. He saw skill in her work and encouraged her to perform the piece at Verbal Gumbo, a monthly open mic welcoming “various artistic expressions.”

“[My poem] was met with such wonderful warmth, and they said I should do another,” says Schacht. “So I did another, and then another, and another, and have continued since.”

Schacht’s discovery of her talent at performing rhythmic, defiant, evocative slam poetry added great joy to her life, but she still wrestled with personal demons. Schacht, a Gemini, says she has two sides, one wanting to perform and another bent on withdrawal. She plotted suicide and eventually had a PTSD break—a bottom from which to rise.

“It all hit me at once and I just broke, and actually, that was a wonderful thing. I took the chance to finally stop and assess everything I’d experienced,” says Schacht, who credits good friends for crucial support.     

“Omaha saved my life. Literally. The community here saved my life,” she says.

That life-saving support inspired Schacht to help others. She coaches Bryan and Northwest High Schools’ teams for the youth poetry festival “Louder Than a Bomb” and has worked with Poetry Out Loud Nebraska and Project Everlast, a group for former foster youth. She’s training to be an amputee peer support counselor and mental health first responder. Schacht is also finishing a book of poetry, tentatively titled Tequila, Twerking, and Other Things a One-legged Poet Should Never Do, and establishing a healing through poetry group.

“I’m blessed to use poetry for healing and to share that with others,” says Schacht. “I needed to heal myself from everything I’ve experienced in my life.”

Routinely taunted in childhood as “ugly girl,” Schacht performs lots of body-positive poetry.

“I worked really hard for this body and so did a lot of other people, so I want to be really proud of it,” she says.

Through her poetry and service to others, Schacht has found confidence and value in her accomplishments. She’s finally discovered that, as Longfellow also wrote, “Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”

“It’s meaningful when people come up in tears telling me my words helped them. It’s a gift. When that healing happens and you can share that with others it’s amazing, and that’s what I’m about now,” she says. “I’m learning to let that help center myself and to realize that is success.”

Wrapping Up Senior Year

April 13, 2014 by

Senior year, can you believe it? All of this hard work is finally paying off, and we can see the victory sign ahead. But no one can prepare us for what we will actually have to go through to put our dreams into reality. So let’s just focus on this last semester and finishing out strong.

This last semester is a waiting game. Everyone gets excited to see who will get some money out of the giant money pot of scholarships.

Me, personally, I’m terrified.

What if I didn’t say the right things in my essay or what if I forgot a reference letter? Trust me, everything that could possibly go wrong is spinning in my head. I’m trying to just worry about my goals—get some scholarships and stay on track with my grades—and look forward to a few possible experiences this last semester.

I’m already thinking about summer as well. I plan on getting an internship as a messenger at a local paper. Just getting your foot in the door and making yourself known can spark so many different opportunities and adventures. Also, this is the last summer before we start college. It’s when we really start feeling like, wow, I did it. I would like to make this summer as memorable as possible, even with a little work at my part-time job every so often.

During the summer, we try not to worry about the overall picture. I’m already thinking of all the dreams that I have for college and all my expectations. I hope to live in the dorms at University of Nebraska-Omaha and study journalism, along with being involved in clubs and activities.

I do have one fear.

I’m scared that on the first day, I’ll wake up late, and then there will be nowhere to park, and I won’t be able to find my class, and I’ll live the rest of my college career thinking about that one embarrassing moment. Oh, yeah, and spilling coffee on the cute guy in class.
Things happen.

But really, graduation is a big moment for me and many of my peers. I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.