By Josie Chance
Artwork illustrating cotton, cattle, tractors and peanuts fills the shelves of a bright red book barn in the LaFayette Pilot Public Library. Farm kids flock to the books, but the publications’ reach extends far beyond readers with previous agricultural experience.
Book barns are bookcases installed by county Farmers Federations in libraries, schools, offices and other locations to promote agriculture-related literature. Chambers County Women’s Leadership Committee Chair Lillian Slay and member Mary Helen Benford hopped on the book barn bandwagon over a decade ago.
“If I had something like this, my students would have loved it,” said Benford, a former special education teacher who spent 35 years in the classroom. “Hands-on interaction is great. Kids can actually hold the book in their hands, sit on the floor and read or look at the illustrations. Reading physical books is crucial for development.”
Benford and Slay saw their first book barn at Alabama Ag In The Classroom Summer Institute and immediately wanted to bring the concept closer to home. Working with local trade school students, 13 book barns have been built and distributed across Chambers County since 2010.
The Franklin County Farmers Federation started its book barn program in 2016. With over 50 books each in seven elementary school libraries, the group has received rave reviews from teachers and students. Franklin County Women’s Leadership Committee Chair Carol Glass said book barns give farmers another outlet to share agriculture with youth.
“During the pandemic, we couldn’t take kids to the farms for tours or field days,” Glass said. “Book barns gave us a way to take the farm to the kids.”
The barns provide lessons beyond how food is produced. Local high school technical classes and agriculture students help source materials and build the barns, which are filled with accurate ag reads, such as “John Deere That’s Who!”.
That book is a hit at the LaFayette Pilot Public Library in LaFayette, where librarian Rachel Johnson said interest in the barn is growing.
“The kids really enjoy the books, and being in a rural county, a lot of them relate to the topics,” Johnson said. “It’s a neat resource for kids and parents, as we offer packets and worksheets to go along with the books.”
Alabama Farmers Federation Women’s Leadership Division Director Kim Earwood said book barns help farmers get involved in their communities.
“Federation members can utilize these barns as a way to increase ag education opportunities in their area and get children involved with food production at an early age,” Earwood said. “When farmers take initiative to get involved in their communities, it truly makes a difference.”
Back in Chambers County, Benford said her best advice for those contemplating building a book barn program is simple:
“Do it. Find someone to help. Contact a trade school and simply do it,” she said.
For more information, contact Earwood at email@example.com or (334) 612-5370.