A is for Agriculture in the Classroom
Debbie Ruff plants tiny seeds in Livingston County classrooms. She knows they grow in wonderful ways.
Ruff, an agriculture literacy coordinator in Livingston County, was shopping in the local Walmart when a little girl ran up to her and gave her a big hug.
“This is the lady who brought all the seeds,” the child told her puzzled mother. “I had fun when you came to my school!”
Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) makes learning fun for students across Illinois. With support from Illinois Farm Bureau and the IAA Foundation, IAITC provides free teaching resources linked to state education standards based on research-driven information, says Kevin Daugherty, IFB education director.
IAITC uses agriculture as the basis for educational materials focused on English, science, math and social studies.
“That’s our goal – not to teach agriculture but to infuse agriculture into other subjects,” Daugherty says.
Agriculture as a springboard connects students to concepts and subjects that may be difficult to grasp. “It’s plant and life science they can see in their backyards,” Daugherty says.
Local IAITC coordinators offer personal contact. They serve as resources and can take agriculture lessons to classrooms, as Ruff does. Ruff works in a unique partnership between the Livingston County Farm Bureau and the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District. She provides teachers with materials, teaches lessons and gives demonstrations. Daugherty says IAITC frequently uses hands-on activities with materials familiar to students.
A simple seed becomes a teaching tool in Ruff’s hands. She challenges students to identify 10 common seeds and relate those seeds to food. The quiz results? Fewer than 20 kids out of more than 800 correctly identified all 10 seeds.
“I show them, ‘This is wheat and we get bread from wheat,’” she says. Ruff enjoys the “aha” moments when a child says, “I didn’t realize so many things come from seeds the farmers plant.”
IAITC relies on teachers to nurture ideas and concepts related to agriculture. In Carl Erbsen’s second-grade classroom, Eastland Elementary School students learn that “everything they do and use is tied to agriculture,” he says.
Erbsen, IAITC’s 2013 Illinois Agriculture Teacher of the Year, connects history to agriculture by making cornhusk dolls with students and discussing how farming has changed over time. Despite the school’s location in the rural Carroll County town of Lanark, only two of Erbsen’s 23 second-graders live on farms. This illustrates the importance of teaching about agriculture in rural schools, not just urban ones.
Erbsen asks his students, “What things have you done today that are not related to agriculture?”
Baseball? Wooden bats are made from trees and leather baseball gloves from animal hides. Clothes? They often come from cotton and other plants. Crayons? Some crayons contain soy oil.
“There are all these little things that normally we don’t think about that are related to agriculture,” he says. “(Students) just think it’s food on their plate.”
Just as education standards and techniques evolve, IAITC adapts its materials and updates its technology. From Smartboards to tablets, IAITC offers resources in many formats. Elementary and middle school teachers may use IAITC agriculture-based quizzes to help students prepare for achievement tests in math, reading and vocabulary.
IAITC works to meet teachers’ and students’ needs now, while planting seeds of knowledge for the next generation.
How to Support Ag Literacy Efforts
Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) gives Illinois educators agriculture-related teaching materials. The IAA Foundation, the charitable arm of the Illinois Farm Bureau, raises money to support IAITC and ensure more young students learn about agriculture and farming.
In addition to accepting direct donations, the foundation holds several fundraising events. During the Illinois Farm Bureau annual meeting Dec. 7-10 at Chicago’s Palmer House, fundraising activities will include live and silent auctions, an ice cream social and a trivia contest.
Summer fundraising events are a May 5K race in Bloomington, a June golf outing in Pontiac and a September bike ride in different regions of the state.
For information, go to iaafoundation.org or call (309) 557-2230.