This school year marks eight years that I have served as our county agriculture literacy coordinator with the Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom program. I majored in journalism and have worked and volunteered mostly in event planning. Teaching was not on the radar. However, I can't imagine a more satisfying way to share the what, why and how of farming with others.
Volunteering to bring the farmyard to the schoolyard doesn't have to be a daunting task. I find classrooms to be ovens of authentic curiosity. Students ask questions to discover the answer not as a reason to argue. They are natural learners.
Get started by using your community network to get an invitation to a school. Partner with your school's FFA chapter or alumni, 4-H clubs or local farm organizations to deliver lessons about technology, science and animal care.
Keep your message simple. Even in our rural communities, basic knowledge about farming is limited. Tackling GMOs, glyphosate or animal welfare isn't where the conversations start. Instead, talk about different types of grain, technology used in your farm equipment or the "Fitbits" worn by your cattle to monitor exercise and health. Show students how you are cultivating ecosystems to support pollinators or stewarding water quality.
Share resources. Your local ag in the classroom program has plenty from which to choose. Explore the National AITC website (agclassroom.org). Check out materials available through the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture (agfoundation.org). Here you will find a long list of "authentic" agriculture books. Donate some to the school's library.
One of my favorite new resources is the Purple Plow Challenge (purpleplow.org). Participating classes can submit their final project for a chance to win money and other prizes for their school.
Finally, just ask. Other farmers and ranchers are engaging students every day. You can too!
Editor's Note: Katie Pratt writes, tweets, farms and "likes" agriculture from north-central Illinois. Find her blog at theillinoisfarmgirl.comand follow her on Twitter at @KatiePratt4.
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