Everything from planting seeds and baking bread to reading ag-based literature and meeting farmers and ranchers face to face is occurring in schools across western states thanks to various groups with the goal of educating today's youth on where their food really comes from.
"It is important to educate school children about where their food comes from at a young age. You can make such an impact; they will go talk to their parents about what they learned and about how they met a farmer or rancher, and you can plant that seed and let them realize how important agriculture is in everyday life," stated Wyoming Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R) Coordinator Kerin Clark of the reward, and reason why, it is so important to educate young people on where their food comes from.
The Wyoming YF&R Committee has a program called Ag Books for Kids that is in its eighth year in the state. The primary goal of the program is to get ag books into elementary schools so children have the opportunity to check out and read the books. Supplemental teaching materials and activities, all of which meet state teaching standards, are also available to teachers. The program also hosts an annual, statewide coloring contest for Kindergarten and first graders, a poster contest for second and third graders and a book review contest for fourth and fifth graders.
"Our YF&R Committee reviews and selects a book each year, and our grassroots County Farm Bureaus are who purchase the books for their local schools. County members and our YF&R Committee are really the backbone of the program. These are actual farmers and ranchers that go into local schools and read the book and do activities with the students across the state," explained Clark of the great opportunity the program offers for students to meet and hear from actual agriculture producers.
Even the Wyoming Governor backs the program. Clark said current Governor Matt Mead followed a trend set several years ago of declaring an Annual Week of Ag Literacy for the week of February 13, 2012.
"It's so important, and emphasizes to the schools, teachers and students that our Governor thinks it's important to read books, and non-fiction books about agricultures. It places a great emphasis on the importance of this project," she noted.
In Montana, the Agriculture in Montana Schools Program (AMS) was started in 1983. Original member and current State Vice President Carol Anne Sparks explained that the organization is an independent entity run completely by volunteers. Their mission is to promote agriculture to students in order to help them become educated voters and make smart food purchasing decisions with the knowledge of how safe our country's food supply is.
"We have teaching materials available for grades K-8., and many of them are on CD today. There are 625 schools in Montana with more than 10 students, and all of those schools have our materials, at no charge. We provide the resources so that teachers can incorporate agriculture into their lessons within any subject. With everything teachers have to teach to meet standards today, it's hard to incorporate a new subject, so we provide lessons within math, science, reading, English and history that include agriculture in some way," noted Sparks.
The group also provides teacher training, where teachers can obtain 1-2 Continuing Education credits, and are working to get a mandatory, one credit, college level course in teaching agriculture incorporated at multiple Montana universities. Sparks explained that a required course or workshop helping educate teachers on agriculture would benefit everyone.
"We also host an annual bumper sticker contest for younger grades, and an essay contest for Seventh through Tenth graders. Winners of the essay contest get a trip to Bozeman, and spend three days on campus at MSU, where we show them all the different things that are ag related, beyond becoming a farmer or rancher," said Sparks.
South Dakota's Ag in the Classroom program is under the new leadership of Ann Price, and she is excited to grow the program over the next several years.
"We encourage teachers to utilize an ag-based curriculum in their classroom. We provide curriculum in any subject matter that will meet state standards, and our curriculums are specifically designed to be supplemental and complimentary without adding anything extra for the teacher," noted Price, adding that many of the lesson plans were designed by current and former teachers in the state.
During National Ag Week, March 5-9, numerous volunteers went into South Dakota classrooms to teach kids about agriculture face to face. Some communities brought the kids to a field day, where various stations hosted animals, crops, equipment, and where kids were allowed to get a hands-on experience.
Price also partnered with South Dakota Extension to host a, "Kids Take Stock in Ag and Science," booth at the Black Hills Stock Show in 2012, and hopes to make it an annual event for Ag in the Classroom.
"We had five stations: branding, eggs, wool, aerodynamics and water. We invited all the elementary schools in the area to bring their K-5 students, and all the kids got to spend 10 minutes at each station learning about that topic. Then we had a packet for all the teachers to take back with them that included additional lesson plans and activities," said Price.
"I am also hoping to become more interactive online with the program in the future. I think a blog would be beneficial, and allow teachers to communicate with other teachers, and with me and our volunteers, about what works well for them and what doesn't, and to get questions answered and to just provide a way to communicate about the program," said Price of future goals for Ag in the Classroom.
"One example of how rewarding and critical it is to teach kids about agriculture comes from when I read to a first grade Wyoming class from a dairy book about butter, cream and milk. My question was, 'where does your food come from?' Their answer was, 'The grocery store.' Three years later, I'm still reading to that same group of kids, and when I asked them that same question this year, they all answered with, 'farmers and ranchers,'" stated Clark of the great potential found in educating youth about where their food and fiber comes from, and why it is so important.
The Wyoming Ag Books for Kids, Agriculture in Montana Schools and South Dakota Ag in the Classroom programs all work with volunteers, and are always looking for ag producers to help educate youth. All three programs are also happy to help with any education related efforts. Their contact information is list below:
Wyoming Farm Bureau Ag Books for Kids Program
www.wyfb.org Please go to the education tab for additional information
Contact Kerin Clark
Agriculture in Montana Schools
Contact Carol Anne Sparks
South Dakota Ag in the Classroom
Contact Ann Price