By Amy Howe 

In our changing world, fewer and fewer people are becoming farmers—just 2% of the population now feeds us all. But there’s something important we might be missing: knowing where our food comes from. It’s not just about recognizing the hard work of farmers; it’s about understanding the land that feeds us. This is especially crucial for high school students, who can learn responsibility, sustainability and appreciation by knowing the origins of their food, both meat and crops. And when dedicated people in the community pitch in— donating land, buildings and time—amazing things can happen.

 We are witnessing those contributions in the Carl Junction community, all thanks to some outstanding citizens who appreciate and have a passion for agriculture and this community they call home. 

The Asbell Family Agriculture Research Center and Carl Junction School Farm, a working livestock and agronomy farm, is the beginning of a bright future for the local ag students attending Carl Junction schools, and it all started with some Carl Junction alumni wanting to make a difference. 

The first step in the creation of the Asbell Family Agriculture Research Center was a show barn donated by Halle Roper and her family. For Halle, her connection to Carl Junction Schools runs deep. As an alumna of the school, she understood firsthand the impact of programs like FFA on students’ lives. 

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without FFA,” she reflects. “It shaped my college and career path in agriculture.” 

Halle graduated in May with a master’s in Agricultural Economics from Oklahoma State University and knew the importance of hands-on experience. “I wish we had something like this back when I was in school,” she says. “More hands-on animal science classes would have been invaluable.” 

The barn held a special place in Halle’s heart. It was her show barn during her upbringing, a hub of activity where she raised and showcased goats and sheep. But as she transitioned out of showing in 2021, the barn sat empty, waiting for a new purpose. That’s when the idea struck her and her dad: why not donate it to the school? Dr. Phillip Cook, the superintendent, was immediately on board. “We want it,” he declared, recognizing the potential it held for students. 

Finding a suitable location for the barn proved to be a challenge, but Jake and Krista Asbell, owners of Asbell Companies, stepped in, offering to donate land for its new home. Their donation of land to Carl Junction Schools for the barn wasn’t just a gesture of generosity, it was a testament to their shared passion for agriculture. Both graduates of Oklahoma State University with degrees in agriculture, they met in one of their ag classes and instantly bonded over their love for the subject. 

“Studying agriculture, we just loved it,” Krista says. “It’s not just a business; it’s about teaching morals, values, ethics. It’s about the heart and soul that farmers, ranchers and agri-producers put into their work.” 

But their decision wasn’t just about providing practical opportunities; it was about investing in the future of their community. They understood the limitations faced by students in Carl Junction who lacked access to a barn. 

“Lots of students in FFA here don’t have access to a barn,” Krista explains. “It limits their ability to participate in the agricultural experience.” 

By providing a space where students could keep livestock and learn about responsibility, animal science and nutrition, the Asbells hope to empower the next generation of agricultural producers. 

With Halle Roper’s donation of her barn and the Asbells’ donation of land, the Carl Junction Ag Department now has a place to teach farming, which will be led by Benny McWilliams, Carl Junction Vo- Agriculture Advisor at Carl Junction High School. 

Benny’s connection to agriculture is deeply rooted, both in his personal and professional life. Raised on a family farm just north of Carl Junction, he still helps out every day with raising Gelbvieh and Balancer cattle, as well as tending to row crops and forages. A graduate of Carl Junction himself, Benny’s journey into teaching began at Diamond High School. However, the pull of his hometown was strong, and he eagerly accepted the opportunity to return to Carl Junction. “It’s been a privilege to teach Animal Science, Ag Science II and Ag Construction to the next generation of agricultural enthusiasts,” he says, his dedication to his students evident. 

For Benny, the fundamentals of knowing where things come from are crucial. “Our goal is to bridge the gap. Many students don’t know how to act around animals or understand horticulture production or crop cultivation.” 

His vision for the barn and land is clear: to create a hands-on learning environment where students can apply classroom knowledge in a real-world setting. “The end goal is to take everything being taught in the classroom and put it into practice.” 

With the new barn, students will have the opportunity to house animals year-round and receive hands-on training in animal care and management. 

“We’ll teach kids everything from artificial insemination to processing calves,” Benny says. “If we can spark new interest, we will do that.” He’s committed to providing a diverse range of experiences, from forage production to alumni involvement in specialized areas. 

But beyond technical skills, Benny sees the farm as a platform for teaching life lessons. “We’re not just raising animals; we’re raising responsible, ethical individuals. We want to develop life skills that will set these kids up for success in any career path they choose.” 

From instilling values of responsibility and trust to fostering a deep connection with the land, Benny’s approach is forward-thinking. 

As he embarks on this new endeavor, Benny is mindful of the farm’s purpose. “We want to keep it as a learning experience.” 

With a focus on utility and interest, Benny is determined to create a space that serves the needs of students and the community. “It’s going to be impactful and very unique to our area. We’re aiming to provide a next-level experience for FFA kids and beyond.” 

With plans for continuous growth and expansion, the future of the school farm at Carl Junction is brighter than ever. The proposed no-tax-increase bond, named Carl Junction Proposition K.I.D.S., passed in April with over 72% of voters saying “yes.” The proceeds will provide funding for various improvements, including the school farm. It will construct classrooms and restrooms, storage facility and other improvements. As the school farm continues to evolve, it remains a testament to the community’s commitment to providing students with the best possible agricultural education. 

Molly Heman, Agricultural Education teacher, and Benny McWilliams, Vo-Ag counselor (center) are pictured with Carl Junction FFA students who will benefit from the new research center. 

This is the coolest group of projects we have had in this school district, and I am so excited about it. These projects will positively impact so many of our students, including safety, academics and athletics. Our community actively supports their children, and they want the best for them. We have already started on many of the projects included on the April 2 ballot, but the safety projects are kicking off first. 

– Dr. Phillip Cook, Superintendent of Schools 



Members of the Carl Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and the community, plus Carl Junction High School students and faculty, cut the ribbon March 24 on the Asbell Family Agriculture Research Center.