In a garden of minds, John Jeans cultivates ideas.

He has been encouraging the growth for 24 years as an agriculture teacher. Jeans began his first year at Astoria High School this fall and is managing a new program for vocational education.

Jeans teaches agriculture and industry classes. He also oversees students taking mechanics and welding classes from Clatsop Community College instructors at the Marine and Environment Research and Training Station. In past years, several high school teachers led the classes.

"We needed someone with a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of experience to come in and start up the programs," said Gary Sunderland, assistant principal at AHS.

In the economy of experience, Jeans is a stock market mogul.

• He's worked as a merchant seaman - following his father's footsteps.

• He's served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a helicopter gunner during the Vietnam War.

• He's operated a pig farm on the southern Oregon Coast.

• He's been an administrator at the Nevada Department of Education.

• He's headed a division for student marketing competitions in FFA.

All from the man who started at the Oregon State University as a theater major. He ended with a bachelor's degree in agriculture education in 1980 and a master's in 1987.

Over the last quarter-century, he's watched agriculture programs change with the industry.

"When I first started, it was really structured," he said.

Students took classes titled Agriculture 1, 2, and so on. Then they competed by "showing" their animals or produce.

But in the 1980s, a Texas girl made headlines for the time she spent away from school competing with her award-winning chicken. Some argued the girl's work was superficial because she wasn't advancing the agriculture field by studying ways to create more award-winning chickens.

The controversy gave way to specialized courses and self-directed projects in agriculture programs. Jeans has investigated a few for Astoria students - landscaping the school commons and developing a center at Olney School. He and Principal Larry Lockett discussed using the vacant school's back field as a site to propagate native plants and raise animals. The project would include public discussion before it comes to fruition.

"We're not going to put a chain-link fence around it," he said.

Astoria's agriculture program is one of about 100 statewide. The courses are often chopped by the budget ax because they are not required for graduation. Jeans' last two jobs in Silverton and Molalla ended because of budget cuts.

Over the years, he's worked in schools with up to 3,500 students. Jeans said Astoria High School is just about the right size.

"It's big enough that there are some options, and small enough that there can be some connections," he said.

- Jennifer Collins

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