By Maggie Edwards
Seventy-one educators from across the state headed to Huntsville June 14-16 for hands-on learning, farm tours and workshops during the annual Alabama Ag in the Classroom (AITC) Summer Institute.
AITC Committee Chair Kim Earwood said this conference is centered around ways to implement agriculture into teachers’ curricula.
“I am amazed at how many of our educators show up every year excited to learn about agriculture,” Earwood said. “Teachers realize where our food comes from, but their goal is to teach future generations about the importance of the industry.”
Rachel Chastain of Talladega County and Kathy DeFoor of Morgan County kicked off the conference telling their personal farm stories and AITC experiences.
The leaders met during their first AITC Summer Institute in 2012.
“Ag in the Classroom put me in the right place at the right time,” said Chastain, who teaches agriculture at Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind’s Helen Keller School. “My students are working toward different goals and became very engaged in the ag activities I would bring back to the classroom.”
AITC helped kick-start Chastain’s Alabama Farmers Federation involvement, too.
“I went to thank my local Federation for an AITC mini grant I received for my classroom and was led to get involved with the organization,” said Chastain, who serves as the Federation State Women’s Leadership Committee secretary.
For DeFoor, the AITC door opened when her husband saw an advertisement for the conference in the Federation’s Neighbors magazine.
“My husband farms, and I teach,” said DeFoor, a sixth-grade educator at Eva School. “After attending my first conference, I came back to the classroom with renewed energy and felt this information was good to share with my students.”
For first-timer John Wilson, AITC Summer Institute was eye-opening.
“I was raised on a small farm, so I understand agricultural life,” said Wilson, a former agriscience teacher and now director of Limestone County Career Tech. “But I realize I take agriculture for granted, because not everyone has the chance to live the ag life. This conference helps get people’s boots dirty and learn a little bit.”
Wilson said he attended the conference to take back ideas to his county elementary agriculture programs.
“We modeled Limestone County elementary ag classes after the success of programs in Georgia,” he said. “I am here to bring fresh ideas back to this program, which is one of the first elementary ag programs in Alabama.”
During their presentation, Chastain and DeFoor discussed ag-centered lessons they use in their classrooms.
“At AIDB, we started a beekeeping program,” Chastain said. “I was able to share the resources, lesson plans and activities my students did to learn about pollinators.”
At Eva School, DeFoor put her efforts in teaching pollination.
“My students made items using beeswax and honey,” she said. “We did in-depth studies using charts and graphs, which circles back to math and science curriculum.”
Attendees crisscrossed north Alabama on Day 2 of the conference for farm tours that included stops at Isom’s Orchard in Athens, Tate Farms in Meridianville and the Cook Museum of Natural Science in Decatur.
“It was very neat to spend one-on-one time with farmers,” Wilson said. “The farm panel at lunch discussed the disconnect between people and agriculture. I think this program is geared toward combating that issue.”
The farmer panel included four Madison County farmers — Seth and Kaylee Hubert of Hubert Family Farms, Federation North Area Vice President Rex Vaughn and Mike Tate of Tate Farms — plus Lydia Haynes of Haynes Farms in Cullman County.
“One of the most important parts of this conference is providing teachers the chance to visit farms and meet farmers firsthand,” Earwood said.
Attendees left Huntsville with a box of accurate ag books, posters and other educational materials worth almost $400.
“I want to thank these partner organizations for seeing the importance teachers have in a child’s life,” DeFoor said. “This conference impacts thousands of lives.”
Chastain echoed DeFoor, adding AITC takes a burden off teachers.
“I have benefited from the AITC program and am a better educator for it,” Chastain said.
The deadline to apply for the 2024 AITC Summer Institute is April 15. Learn more about Summer Institute or access AITC materials at AlabamaAITC.org.
To learn more, listen to a special edition AITC Alabama AgCast.