Hannah Wheeler ’20

Hannah Wheeler with kitten.
Hannah Wheeler in the Hess Barn at the Merry Lea Sustainable Farm.

Agriculture has always been a part of Hannah Wheeler’slife. Hannah grew up on a 40-acre hobby farm in Hudson, Mich., where the high school mascot is a longhorn steer. She has fond memories of exhibiting market steers at the local county fair and helping her family grow their own meat and vegetables.

When Hannah chose to attend Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., she planned to participate in Merry Lea’s Agroecology Summer Intensive (ASI) and transfer her credits.

Now a rising junior, she is complementing her major in social and environmental sustainability with agricultural training not available at her college.

When classes build on each other

“I love it when classes build on each other,” Hannah says. She particularly enjoys the food systems course in the ASI, because of her interest in the social aspects of environmental sustainability. How do political policies affect human behavior? When are companies manipulating information to make their products appear greener than they really are? These are the kinds of questions that intrigue her.

Hannah is also enjoying studying animal husbandry in the ASI. The Merry Lea Sustainable Farm has pigs, milk goats, cattle, laying hens, meat chickens, turkeys and honeybees, each requiring different types of care. While she was already very comfortable around animals, the course is enabling Hannah to add management insights to her previous experience. Learning to evaluate the quality of a pasture is one example.

Weekly field trips give students exposure to a wide variety of farms. Hannah particularly enjoys reviewing these experiences with her classmates.

“Our field trip debriefings are fun. We talk about what we saw and heard; what resonated and what didn’t. All of us are from different walks of life. It is interesting to hear how my peers experienced things,” she said.

When she finishes her degree, Hannah hopes to work in some form of public education. Recalling what fun it was to teach children how to pet her 4-H cattle, Hannah can see herself as a 4-H extension agent.