Since 2000, more than 150 Alabama teachers have received summer in-service training on the importance of agriculture thanks to Ag in the Classroom teacher institutes funded by a grant from the Alabama Farmers Federation. Now, Alabama’s agricultural leaders are hoping the Farming Feeds Alabama license tag will provide a permanent source of funding for the program while generating revenue for other agricultural education and promotion efforts.”Teachers have one of the most important jobs in the world because they shape the minds of young people,” said Alfa Farmers President Jerry Newby. “Because so few people work on the farm, it is becoming more important that we share the story of agriculture and farming. These workshops allow teachers to return to the classroom with that story and share it with their students.”During the Ag in the Classroom workshops, teachers tour actual farms, research facilities and allied industries. They also received curriculum packets and project ideas designed to help them incorporate agriculture into daily lessons.Jean Jackson, a first-grade teacher at Ruhama Elementary School in Dekalb County, attended the first Teacher Institute. She said the knowledge she gained from visiting working farms will help her dispel some misconceptions her students have about food.”We live in a rural community, and when I ask my first-graders if they know where milk and eggs come from, they say the grocery store,” she said. “That bothers me. We should all know where our food comes from and not take it for granted.”After attending last summer’s workshop, Bernadette Mechler, a first-grade teacher at Carver Elementary School in Montgomery, said she planned to help start a school garden.”I’ve always tried to teach my students to appreciate the environment and appreciate what the land has to offer them,” she said. “I’m hoping we can start a small vegetable garden, and maybe the students can sell some of the vegetables.”Xris Blonk, who teaches third grade at Montgomery’s Dozier Elementary, was instrumental in developing the Ag in the Classroom curriculum. She said projects like Mechler’s could help reverse a disturbing trend among Americans.”We have lost our appreciation for farming in this country because we’ve never had to go hungry,” she said. “If we ever went to the grocery stores and found the shelves empty, we might have more appreciation for farmers.”Until then, she says, the Teacher Institutes play a vital role in equipping educators to teach children about agriculture.”We need to catch children when they’re little, because what they hear when they’re young really stays with them,” she said.At current funding levels, however, Ag in the Classroom must limit participation in the Teacher Institutes to about 90 teachers a year. And with the grant from the Farmers Federation set to expire in just three years, Ag in the Classroom desperately needs a permanent, long-term source of revenue.Newby said the Ag Tag has the potential to provide ample money for Ag in the Classroom as well as public relations campaigns like the popular Farming Feeds Alabama television commercials.”The $50 tax-deductible fee for the tag could help put agriculture in a very favorable light with our youth, their parents and future generations,” he said.But before a penny of tag money can be spent on agricultural education and promotion, 1,000 tags must be sold. If that doesn’t happen by May 31, Newby said the state will refuse to print the tag, and the farm community will have missed an important opportunity to share its story.As of Jan. 1, about 700 Alabama drivers had paid the $50 fee and completed a Commitment to Purchase agreement. With just three months remaining before the deadline, agricultural leaders are encouraging farm organization members to reserve their Ag Tag. Commitment to Purchase forms are available at county license tag issuing offices. The $50 tax-deductible fee must be paid when drivers reserve their tags. They will continue to use their current license plates until the new tags are printed. Drivers who pre-purchase their tag will be required to present a copy of the Commitment to Purchase and a receipt when they pick up their tags.This year’s Ag in the Classroom Teacher Institute is scheduled for June 12-14 in the Montgomery area. For more information about Alabama Ag in the Classroom, contact Alabama Farmers Federation Women’s Director Ashley Davis at 1-800-392-5705, ext. 3280.
Driving To Succeed – New Tag To Benefit Ag in the Classroom