Driver’s Seat: Organizations join forces to create mobile ag education unit
Farm organizations in seven north Alabama counties are putting students in the driver’s seat to agricultural education with a mobile learning lab called “Ag In Action.”
The centerpiece of the 24-foot trailer is a Case cotton picker cab equipped with a flat-screen television and motion-effect seat. Students can feel what it’s like to harvest row crops, work on a cattle or poultry farm, and cut timber.
“The ultimate goal is to plant a seed in the minds of children and instill a love of agriculture in them,” said Beth Farmer, 48, county executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Cherokee County.
Etowah County Farmers Federation Secretary Sharron Gross and Cherokee County Farm-City Co-Chair Dewandee Neyman developed the idea for a portable classroom after seeing similar projects at national conferences. Their project took off when the Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council awarded Ag In Action almost $20,000 in grants.
Farmer, along with former Etowah County Soil and Water Conservation District Education Coordinator Sarah Butterworth, 35, are part of a coalition created to build and operate the trailer.
“It’s vital kids know where food and fiber comes from,” said Butterworth, who was recently hired part-time by the Etowah County Farmers Federation to coordinate use of the mobile classroom. “They need to know the fields they drive by and the food they eat every day are connected.”
Ag In Action will serve kindergarten through fifth-grade students in Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, DeKalb, Etowah, Marshall and St. Clair counties. Its first event is the Etowah County Farm-City Outdoor Classroom Oct. 2-3, but Farmer hopes it will be scheduled at least three days a week.
“A lot of schools have been forced to cut down on field trips,” Farmer said. “This really helps because we can take the trailer to the schools and teach multiple grades about agriculture.”
In addition to the harvest simulator, Ag In Action has a station for four computers where students can play the My American Farm game from the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture; an outside television where children can watch videos; a portable cotton gin; a cow milking activity and a water quality station.
“We wanted to make sure we don’t have a line of kids waiting to get in that cab,” Butterworth said. “We want something for them to touch, feel and experience at all times.”
Although the mobile classroom wasn’t completed until September, it began teaching students lessons months earlier. When workers scheduled to install the cotton picker cab dropped the project at the last minute, Farmer called on friends at the Cherokee County Career and Technology Center for help.
“The teachers and students here stepped up, came to our rescue and took (the trailer) to the next level,” Farmer said.
Gaylesville High School junior Trevor Webb, 16, was among the students who wired the cab’s television monitor.
“It’s fun to do, and it’s a great opportunity to use what we’ve learned,” Webb said. “I think it’s a great idea because the kids will be able to see how to grow the cotton for the clothes we wear.”
Electronics instructor Keith Tolbert said working on Ag In Action is preparing students for the workplace.
“The experience they can get from this one project is more than I can teach them in an entire semester,” he said.
Farmer and Butterworth said the Ag In Action mobile classroom cost about $30,000 to build. Supporters include the Farmers Federations and Soil and Water Conservation Districts in the seven-county area; Coosa Valley and Alabama’s Mountains Rivers and Valleys RC&D Councils; Snead Ag; First South Farm Credit; Cherokee Gin and Cotton Co.; Alabama Cooperative Extension System; USDA Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service; Tile Liquidators in Gadsden; Alabama Farm Credit; and the Cherokee County Career and Technology Center.
For more information about Ag In Action or to schedule an event, visit the Ag In Action Facebook page.