As soon as school is out for the summer, you can find Jessica Rettler tending to the vegetable fields on her family’s farm, attending her kids’ various summer activities and playing an active role in her community.
“Everyone always tells me, ‘Oh, you’re a teacher! You must enjoy your summers off’,” said Jessica. “’Off’ is not really the case.”
This summer, Jessica added another item to her list of adventures. She traveled down to Orlando, Florida, to receive the 2023 National Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award and continued her education to incorporate further Ag in the Classroom lessons.
It Begins on the Farm
Farming has always run in Jessica’s veins. Her grandparents started farming followed by her parents, brothers and now her own children. Flyte Family Farm is rooted in family traditions, community involvement and a whole lot of vegetables. Jessica recalls spending her high school summer vacations out in the vegetable fields. Her grandma would bring the whole family a hearty lunch every day to keep them fed and energized.
“It’s a family thing,” Jessica said.
They even set aside a few hours every Sunday for quality family time. The family plays kickball, goes kayaking, rides horses and more.
Jessica’s and Matt’s daughters Karissa, Makenna, Addyson and Elliana have all developed their own love for agriculture. They help on the farm, deliver vegetables to the markets and take care of their 4-H projects. The girls show pigs, sheep, cattle and, of course, vegetables at the county fair. Addyson even has her own herd of Mini Herefords.
Located in Coloma, Flyte Family Farm started with many fresh market vegetables that has since expanded to berries, cash crops, and a more diversified market vegetables. The farm is about 500 acres filled with asparagus, zucchini, broccoli, eggplants, gourds, squash, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, peppers, Brussels sprouts, muskmelon, pumpkins, cauliflower, green beans, cucumbers, potatoes, sweet corn and field crops. Some acres on Flyte Family Farm Too and Pleasant Prairie Acherz are even organic!
The vegetable planting process starts in mid- to late-April. The vegetables are planted throughout the following weeks depending on their growing season and harvesting starts throughout the summer and lasts until the end of September. When pollination is in full swing, bees are shipped to the farm and hives are placed around the fields. Every few weeks, a local beekeeper collects the honey.
Jessica’s parents, Lee and Cheryl, brothers and their wives, JR and Kristen, and Adam and Carrie, and their children play a huge role in the farm’s success. JR manages the vegetable crop and Adam runs Flyte Family Farm Too and Flyte’s Fieldstones, entities of Flyte Family Farm. Here, Adam and Carrie own and rent over 3,500 acres of cabbage, potatoes, and cash crops, raises beef cattle, and grows pick-your-own strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. They also have hydroponic greenhouses on the farm that grow cucumbers, tomatoes and starter plants. Vegetables left over from both farms are added to a TMR to be fed to the cattle. JR and Adam work closely together every year to plan out crop rotations between field crops, vegetables and berries.
Bringing the Farm to the Classroom
Jessica knew she wanted to become a teacher from an early age. She was inspired by her mom and grandma who taught.
When Jessica graduated high school, she attended UW-Stevens Point for her undergraduate degree and continued her education at UW-Oshkosh for her masters.
After graduation, Jessica started teaching at Wautoma Area School District as a Spanish teacher. The next year she accepted a position at Tri-County Area School District and has been there ever since. Jessica has taught fourth grade for 22 years but will be moving to seventh- and eighth-grade math this fall.
A few months ago, Jessica received word from the principal that she needed to bring her students down to the auditorium immediately. When she arrived, she found her family, coworkers and all the students at the school all waiting for her. There, they presented her with the 2022 Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom Outstanding Teacher Award.
“I didn’t know much about this award, but it was truly an honor,” Jessica said.
After she received the state award, Jessica applied to represent Wisconsin at the national level. She spent many hours writing the application, sending in photos of her classroom and farm, and reflecting on her role in agriculture. In April, she was notified that she received the 2023 National Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award.
“I was ecstatic!” said Jessica.
She traveled to Orlando, Florida with her husband Matt, daughters, parents and a few family friends to receive the award.
“The award itself was very humbling and it was a highlight to represent Wisconsin,” Jessica said. “Ever since I received the award, people have been so kind promoting it and wishing me congratulations.”
Jessica’s 23 years of bringing agriculture into the classroom was well rewarded this past year. She continues to help her students strive for success and brings them rewarding experiences from her family farm.
During class, Jessica brings in vegetables and fruits for experiments and research, participates in an adopt-a-cow program and has brought students to her farm in previous years. She loves the Into the Outdoors program.
“A big component of teaching is out of the classroom learning,” said Jessica. “It really adds a lot of value.”
Jessica is also an avid user of the Ag in The Classroom Curriculum Matrix. She finds valuable agricultural lessons and incorporates them into her daily class routine.
After school, Jessica coaches the school’s volleyball team. She brings items from the farm, such as watermelons, and does fun team building activities with them. In all aspects of Jessica’s life, her goal is to spread her agricultural knowledge and make an impact on her students.
Jessica’s school, Tri-County Area School District, works closely with Flyte Fieldstone Farm to provide fresh and local vegetables through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant. The food service employees do an excellent job preparing meals with local vegetables and providing each student with a nutritious school lunch.
“When the truckload of vegetables comes to the school, the kids are so eager to help unload it,” said Jessica. “It is a great connecting and learning experience about the farm-to-table process.”
Extending to the Community
Jessica was raised to be community minded.
“I always think to myself how can I help or be of service,” she said.
Right now, Jessica is serving as the Waushara County 4-H Leader, plays an active role in the Central Wisconsin Rural Safety Day and the Coloma Dynamites 4-H Club Leader. She uses her talents to edit, revise, and pilot lessons for the Farming for the Future Foundation.
Since Jessica and her family have exemplified leadership in their community, they were chosen to be featured at the new Food and Farm Discovery Center in Plover. This interactive exhibit will teach consumers about the farm-to-fork process within the local community.
Jessica and her family have shown true dedication to agricultural education through the farm, school and their community. It is a lasting impact that has reached lives of those around them.
“I love opportunities where I can share my passion on and off of the farm,” Jessica said.
She continues to search for these opportunities every day and brings light to the future of agriculture. Bob Wdell, a farm employee, said it best, “They are truly a wonderful family.”
Story and photos by Heidi Strey. Originally appeared in the August | September 2023 Rural Route.