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City Kid Goes Rural | Winter 2007 Out Here Magazine

Isiah Sein grew up within the city limits of San Antonio, Texas, but his school’s FFA program helped develop a love for animals and the outdoor life.

FFA develops Isiah Sein's passion for animals

By Noble Sprayberry
Photography by Mark Greenberg

Barns take up most of the roughly 3 acres outside Luther Burbank High School in San Antonio, Texas, which makes walking cattle a difficult chore.

"We'd pretty much just go in circles," says Isiah Sein. "It was way too small for my steer."

It might have been too little to allow animals to roam, but the school-owned mini-farm was plenty big enough to capture the imagination of a city kid who developed a passion for the outdoors and farm life through the school's FFA club.

Sein is a junior at Texas A&M University, where he is learning to mix an interest in animals with a career. He started out as an agriculture major, then switched to wildlife and fisheries science. "I'm exploring all of the different classes, because there's so much stuff you can do," he says.

For Sein, 20, family fueled his curiosity. His great-grandmother, Otilea Sein, raised chickens for the eggs and when he was 6 or 7 years old he often helped her with the chores.

When he was a bit older, about 10 or 11, he worked with his uncle, Ernest De Los Santos, who owned a farm outside San Antonio.

When he told his neighborhood friends about farm life, they showed passing curiosity, Sein says. "I'd tell them about my uncle doing something with a pig and they'd say it was cool, but they didn't really have an interest like me," he says.

When he learned he could join FFA as an elective high school class, Sein didn't hesitate. The club he found, though, was far from robust.

Membership totaled about five students, who learned how to raise chickens, pigs, and cattle. "I don't think the school board even knew we still had an FFA program," he says.

The students' work often concluded at local stock shows but winning wasn't of the greatest importance.

"I just loved raising animals," Sein says.

The high school's agriculture legacy started in 1937 as a program that produced crops and raised and sold prize-winning swine, says Gerard Silva, agriculture science teacher.

The program now addresses modern agriculture with a curriculum containing horticulture, canine science, and aquatic science.

Students such as Sein keep the program healthy. "He was a role-model type of student," Silva says. "He took the initiative and was always trying to learn something new."

Sein became the FFA club's president in his junior year, partly in recognition of his efforts to recruit others. By his senior year, 20 students participated and the club doubled in size the next year, Sein says.

And he wasn't alone in taking his interests to college. Two of his friends from FFA joined him at Texas A&M, where Sein intends to learn more about a love first kindled with his great-grandmother's chickens and nurtured at a high school surrounded by city.

"I have a passion for animals," he says. "It's like having your own kids. You watch them grow and run around. I've got to have animals in my life."

Noble Sprayberry is a freelance writer in Phoenix.