Agriculture Literacy – What Can You Do?

20161111_123719Every November about 75 people who are passionate about teaching others about agriculture gather in one room for the annual Ag in the Classroom County Contacts  .  It is my favorite day of the year!

In the room are seasoned veterans who have volunteered doing Agriculture in the Classroom programs for 10-20 years.  They’ve visited hundreds of classrooms, teaching students about topics ranging from apples or corn to soil conservation or biotechnology.  Some have led farm field trips, organized large events, or even Skyped with students from a farm.

Many in the room are new to Agriculture in the Classroom too.  They came because they love agriculture and want to help students learn about the valuable agriculture resources in the state we call home.  They see the disconnect between students and agriculture, and want to do something to change that in their communities.

img_1018Farmland covers 70% of Iowa, yet most young people have not seen a corn plant close-up, ridden on a tractor, or realized not all barns are big and red.  How can we expect students to pursue careers in agriculture when they do not have direct experiences with it?  I love seeing students’ reactions when they watch a soybean sprout or discover that farmers use GPS and even drones!  Once they have experiences like these, they are eager to learn more.  All it takes is the first spark.

We all can help young people in our communities learn about and feel connected to agriculture. Being involved with Iowa Ag in the Classroom does not have to involve a large commitment.   From “baby steps” to “big steps”, there are many things you can do.

Baby Steps:

  • mindy-handsaker-reading-before-farmchatLet us know you’re interested in Agriculture in the Classroom. We’ll add you to our contact list, so you receive regular updates about new resources and training opportunities.  Signing up does not commit you to doing programs, but it’s a good way to learn more.  You can take the next steps when you are ready.
  • Encourage teachers to apply for the Agriculture in the Classroom .  Share information about it on social media, and personally spread the word to teachers you know.
  • Spread the word about Agriculture in the Classroom and resources available. Talk about the great things going on across Iowa to friends and family. Send a note to your child or grandchild’s teacher with more information about the professional development opportunities, grants, lesson plans, and free student publications available that connect agriculture to Iowa Core Standards.
  • IALF FFA 4H license plate 10.1.15Order the new Iowa Agriculture License plate for your vehicle! Proceeds from the sale of the plate will help support three important youth programs in Iowa that help young people learn about – 4H, FFA & Agriculture in the Classroom.

Big Steps:

  • Tell teachers you know that you’re willing to help their students learn about agriculture. It can be as simple as providing samples of corn or soybeans to use for classroom experiments.  If you’re willing to go a step further, you could talk to the class, invite them to visit your farm, or do a FarmChat® program!
  • farmchat-with-nick-hermanson-in-turkey-barnSpeaking of FarmChat®, this is a great way to help students learn about your farm or job in agriculture. FarmChat® is a unique program that utilizes technology (Skype, FaceTime and other software platforms) to bring agriculture directly into school classrooms. Using a laptop at the school and a mobile device at the farm, students connect and directly speak with the farmer. They can even virtually ride along in the combine or tour a livestock barn all from the safety and security of their classroom. FarmChat® is growing across the state. Programs can be initiated by farmers interested in sharing what they do. They can be initiated by teachers wanting to teach their students about crops and livestock. If this interests you, learn more about FarmChat® here, watch clips of programs on our YouTube Channel, or contact me for help getting started!
  • Reach out to the guidance counselor at your local middle or high school, and see if there is an opportunity to talk to students about careers in agriculture. Many schools organize career days or career presentations throughout the year to introduce students to various careers.   You could talk about your career, the company or field you work in, or the many reasons an agriculture career is a good choice!

Agriculture in the Classroom efforts are growing across the state thanks to people just like you who took baby steps and big steps to help Iowa’s youth explore the world of agriculture!

– Cindy

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