The Howard G. Buffett Foundation Commits $9 Million to Decatur Public Schools Foundation to Establish FFA Agriculture Education Center
The Decatur Public Schools Foundation has announced a $9 million dollar commitment from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to build the FFA Agriculture Education Center. This investment in infrastructure, unique among high school ag programs in the United States, will establish the Dwayne O. Andreas Ag Academy as one of the country’s premier dedicated Ag education sites and supplement the coursework and National FFA Organization programming available to Decatur Public School students enrolled in the program.
“When we provided the funding to create the Dwayne O. Andreas Ag Academy, we had no idea how successful this program would become,” said Howard G. Buffett, Chairman and CEO ofthe Howard G. Buffett Foundation. “By building this facility, I believe it further solidifies the reputation of the Ag Academy and its students as among the best in the United States. We appreciate the support of this new project by the Mayor, the City Council, the County Board and the ongoing support of the School Board, which originally embraced the inception of the Ag Academy.”
Established in August 2018 with a $1.65 million gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Andreas Academy includes educators and FFA Advisors at Eisenhower and MacArthur High Schools who lead a formal academic and field-based curriculum, with an emphasis on career development in the agriculture industry. Since then, Academy students from both high schools have worked collaboratively to build a hands-on Living Science Farm. At this site they pursue entrepreneurial ventures and SAE (Supervised Ag Experience) activities with livestock and horticulture. The new facility will vastly expand the program’s acreage and dedicated instructional space.
“Decatur is proud to be the Agribusiness Capital of the World, and this innovative gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation opens new opportunities for our students,” said Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe. “Our future is directly tied to theirs, and giving them the foundation to grow their own success will impact this community in ways we can’t even imagine. Our thanks to Howard Buffett for continuing to support Decatur’s young people with amazing possibilities.”
This fall, Andreas Academy FFA Officers from MacArthur High School were selected as a National Model of Excellence chapter based on activities during its third year of existence. This achievement recognized these Decatur students as a Top Ten chapter among 8,817 in the nation. “From 202 students enrolled our first year, we’ve grown to 435 Academy members this fourth year. We’re now operating with four full-time Ag teachers after opening with two,” said Decatur Public Schools Foundation Executive Director Zach Shields. “The program has grown at a rate requiring facilities beyond those that exist in the current high school buildings.”
Marie Shaffer represents the Academy’s purpose, which is introducing non-traditional urban students to the world of careers connected to agriculture. She was the program’s first graduate and entered her field of study solely because of her experience in the Ag Academy. “This program has genuinely changed my life,” said Shaffer, who served as President of the MacArthur FFA chapter and now studies plant biotechnology at the University of Illinois College of ACES (Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences). “There have been so many opportunities presented to me through the Andreas Academy, and I can’t wait to see where else agriculture takes me.”
“I want to commend Howard G. Buffett and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for once again investing in our community and in our kids’ futures with this latest commitment,” said Kevin Greenfield, Chairman of the Macon County Board. “This additional $9 million investment in infrastructure will allow Decatur public high school students to gain hands-on experience and be educated in a real-world environment, better preparing them to pursue the wide range of employment opportunities available in agriculture.”