This is the story of a farm girl, a family legacy and how a young woman matured to strike a balance between her rural roots and her passion for teaching.
Megan Wick has a lifetime of memories with Upper Valley Holsteins. She remembers being 3 years old and riding on a tractor at her family’s dairy farm. And she also recalls her self-described “obnoxious” teen years when her long-suffering father put her to work looking after the farm’s baby calves.
A family enterprise
All the time Megan was growing up, her grandparents, Andy and Polly Jo, and her father, Jeff, were laboring to keep the family business going. Soon young Megan was also putting in long days working in the Colorado sun with animals that she recalls “didn’t smell that great.” But she stuck with it, working every summer through high school and returning to labor on the farm during her summer college breaks.
Maybe it was her work with frisky calves that inspired Megan to pursue teacher training at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) in Greeley. Or maybe the teaching gene was just in her blood. Megan’s mother, Erin Gagnon, teaches fourth grade in Olathe and her great-grandmother, Miriam Hartig, had been an elementary school teacher and longtime member of Delta Kappa Gamma, the professional society that promotes the growth of women educators and excellence in education. Miriam began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Kansas, then in Granby, at Garnet Mesa Elementary in Delta and finally at Cedaredge Elementary School before retiring in 1975. She passed away in February 2018.
In addition to family influences, Megan’s decision to become a teacher was also influenced by her positive experiences in the Cedaredge High School (CHS) Future Farmers of America (FFA) program. Her FFA advisor and agriculture teacher, Katie Greenwood, served as an inspirational role model demonstrating that it was feasible to combine a love for agriculture with a passion for teaching.
“Mrs. Greenwood taught me it was possible to have the best of both worlds,” Megan remembers.
Away at college
Entering UNC in 2014, Megan was amazed to discover that many of her classmates had no idea where milk came from, no notion of the value of agriculture and no clue about farming life. She did her best to educate them by working agriculture into nearly every class project and enthusiastically sharing stories of her rural roots.
Thanks to her great-grandmother’s legacy, Megan began her work at UNC with a Delta Kappa Gamma scholarship and every intention of becoming a teacher. But, while her college career progressed, she experienced periodic doubts as she wrestled with the idea of carrying on the family business.
“It made me sad to think that things at Upper Valley might end with my Dad’s generation,” she recalled.
Her concerns were reinforced each summer when she returned home to work at the dairy and for a time she considered switching majors to become a large animal veterinarian. But by her junior year she was committed to teaching with the idea of returning to the Western Slope to teach during the school year while continuing to spend her summers at the farm.
And so she has.
Megan did her student teaching at Garnet Mesa, her great-grandmother’s old school, where she worked with fourth graders under the supervision of Nate Magner and Lisa Rover. Graduating in 2018, she taught one year in Rangely before starting her present role as a fifth grade teacher at Pomona Elementary School in Montrose.
And, true to her plan, her summers will be spent working at the dairy.
“I do three months of 12-hour days in the sun with a thousand cows,” she smiled, “then the rest of the year I’m inside four walls managing 23 students, each expressing their own needs.”
By all accounts, things are going well and her students have little doubt about her dual passions for teaching and agricultural. She talks openly with her class about her family and her dairying roots. And she takes every opportunity to expose her class to the region’s rich agricultural heritage. Last month she worked with Fritchman Orchards which donated a box of apples to help students learn about the life cycle of apples and the labor required to harvest one of Delta County’s most important fruit crops.
“I think it’s important,” she said, “for the kids to know that they can use their hands and get dirty and still make a difference in people’s lives. College isn’t the only answer to a successful future.”
Leading up to Halloween, the class worked on a pumpkin seed project and this coming spring Megan will lead her students on a field trip to — where else — Upper Valley Holsteins.
“Dairying and farming in general are important topics,” she said. “I prefer educating people through stories and experiences rather than trying to cram the information down someone’s throat.”
Exposing kids to agriculture
She hopes that each of her students will gain an appreciation for farming and perhaps even consider a career in agriculture. Meanwhile she is living proof of the value of dairying. Remember all those summers she spent working at the family farm? All that work paid off — literally paid off — because by the time she earned her UNC diploma, her diligent summer work had allowed her to pay off every penny of her student loans.
So this hard-working young woman is debt free and contentedly dividing each year between a teaching job she loves and a family business she can’t bring herself to abandon.
And so, any way you slice it, it looks like she’s achieved the best of both worlds.