Sheller Farms in Noblesville, Indiana, is just north of Indianapolis, but for many inner-city kids it’s a world away. To Aaron Sheller, it is a world of opportunity that he was delighted to share with a group of students from the Summer Academy.
The academy is a summer education program established more than 15 years ago by 100 Black Men of Indianapolis. The mentoring organization partners with other community groups to provide about 200 Kindergarten through eighth graders from low- to moderate-income families with a six-week summer program that offers a variety of recreational and creative activities, academic classes, and field trips.
Jay Oliver, a private wealth manager for Regions Bank, volunteers on the Summer Academy committee and suggested the students take a field trip to a farm. He knew that many of the students attending the program had never been in the country or seen a tractor up close. Not only could the field trip expose the students to a new experience, it could also introduce them to career opportunities in agriculture beyond the so-called “cow, sow and plow.”
Oliver knew that his client, Aaron Sheller, had been through his own challenges. When he was just a year from college graduation, Sheller’s father passed away leaving in jeopardy the farm that had been in the Sheller family for seven generations. It was up to Sheller to keep the family business going while finishing college and earning his degree. It was a difficult few years, but not only did the farm survive, it expanded the business by keeping track of current market trends and embracing new technology.
Sheller was eager to share his love of farming with the students from the Summer Academy and worked with the committee to divide the experience into different stations throughout the farm. One area gave kids a close-up view of the combines, tractors and other farm equipment. Another station gave students a lesson on harvested crops and livestock. Donald Blume from Regions’ Commercial team in Lafayette, Indiana, talked about career opportunities in agriculture beyond the farm. There was also a petting zoo.
“I think you can get more education when you can be hands on,” Sheller said. “You have a lot more appreciation of your shirt that has wool in it if you’ve petted and seen a sheep. You have more appreciation for the bacon you eat in the morning if you’ve seen a pig, or for the milk you drink if you’ve seen a dairy cow.”
Months of planning went into setting up the field trip. When the day finally arrived and the students showed up, Sheller said he felt rewarded. “We put a lot of time in getting ready for this. It felt like a culmination of all that hard work.”
The children’s appreciation was easy to see. “When we saw the kids’ faces, I realized we were in for a good day,” said Summer Academy committee member Erik Brown . “We knew then that we were doing something right.”
At the end of the day, when Sheller offered closing remarks, he talked about carrying out his father’s legacy. For a minute, he got choked up. “My dad would have been in that moment. He loved giving back,” he said. Suddenly, the kids responded, their voices in unison rising up with the academy’s theme song . “It’s my responsibility … to be the best I can be,” they sang.
“I got teary eyed,” Sheller admitted. “Talk about a moving moment, even my mom looked around and said, ‘Amazing.’ I think we got more out of it than the kids did.”