An Ag in the Classroom (AITC) meeting held Nov. 14 at the Waupaca County Courthouse promoted the resources available for teaching agriculture.
“There are several cool resources related to ag education,” said Darlene Arneson, coordinator of the AITC program. “There are lots of options and lots of choices; the key is finding that balance.”
Arneson started the meeting by taking about the Ag in the Classroom Essay Contest, which is open to all children in fourth and fifth grades. Last year, over 1,900 essays were received in the state. The contest is sponsored annually by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Frontier FS, We Energies and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
Contest entries must be delivered to county coordinators by April 1, after which the best essays are chosen for district judging. Only one entry from each of the nine Farm Bureau districts is chosen for state-level judging.
This year’s essay theme is “Why crops and plants are important to Wisconsin agriculture.” According to Arneson, the theme is derived from the American Farm Bureau’s book of the year, “Seed, Soil, Sun.”
“It’s a wide-open topic,” she said.
The Wisconsin Farm Bureau (wfbf.com) annually selects a book of the year based on agriculture accuracy, picture quality, and the book’s appeal to elementary students. The American Farm Bureau (www.fb.org) also has a recommended reading list. Activities for each book are listed on the FB websites.
“The book program offers a wonderful activity for interacting with the kids,” Arneson said. “Books can be a nice resource and a nice incentive gift for the essay program.”
She encouraged teachers and volunteers to look for ways to utilize the books. Some of her suggestions were to talk to libraries about including the FB-selected books for summer reading programs, having a storytime at the county fair, and reading to the elderly.
Arneson asked the county coordinators what they did to promote the AITC Essay Contest.
“Either myself or a representative will try to get into all of the schools,” said Kari Riley, Waupaca County AITC coordinator. She indicated that the county FB also offers incentives – like ice cream – to encourage participation in the contest.
Ideas for classroom activities to promote agriculture are available on the AITC website at www.wisagclassroom.org. According to Arneson, the AITC website also lists the various grants and matching grants that are available for agriculture education projects (not for certified ag teachers). The website provides 175 lessons plans and links to other useful websites.
Arneson noted that free material for promoting agriculture can also be found on the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s website at wmmb.com/wdc. One of the most popular items is the Soybean Science Kit for grades 4-9.
“Basically it provides an opportunity for our kids to be learning science and working with agriculture,” Arneson said.
Food and farm facts, statistics, games and promotional materials can be found on the AFB website. A free interactive online game, My American Farm (myamericanfarm.org), and other family activities are also available.
Arneson encouraged the teachers and volunteers to take advantage of the online ag-related resources, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s AITC website at www.agclassroom.org, and the new whyag.com website which is an effort to match skills to agriculture jobs.
“There’s a true need to fill ag-related jobs,” she said. “The goal of the website is to provide the company connection.” She explained there are sometimes no applicants for ag-related jobs due to lack of specific skills.
Waupaca County UW-Extension agriculture agent Greg Blonde presented information about area producers interested in talking to classrooms and selling their products directly to local schools.