The Alabama Ag in the Classroom (AITC) Summer Institute equipped 90 teachers to share the importance of agriculture with their students.
Kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers from across the state participated in workshops and farm tours in Tuscaloosa and Hale counties May 31-June 2.
For many teachers, including Trinity Presbyterian School’s Susan Brown, Thursday’s farm tours were the most exciting facet of the institute.
“I won’t necessarily remember everything that was said this week, but I will remember the sights, sounds, smells and tastes we experienced on the tours,” said the 32-year veteran teacher. “I love the fact that we saw catfish being harvested, and then we ate fried catfish for lunch. We used our five senses, and this is what I want to bring back to my students.”
Cyndal Whiten, a second-grade teacher at Pike Road School, already plans to incorporate the knowledge she gathered in her classroom this fall.
“It was a great learning experience,” Whiten said. “I think it’s important to teach our students to be inquisitive about where their food comes from.”
Seven teachers from Pike Road attended the institute and plan to use existing garden and chicken coop facilities to start Farm Fridays at the school.
“We have already begun talking about how we can use the skills we learned this week to make Farm Fridays a school wide event,” said Whiten, who just finished her first year of teaching. “We want to get every grade involved in agriculture.”
Teachers weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the annual event. Farmers who were part of the program said they appreciated the chance to talk to teachers about farm life and work.
Annie Dee, a row crop farmer from Pickens County, was among four farmers who visited with teachers during a panel discussion.
“The teachers’ questions were so insightful,” Dee said. “They asked about the future of agriculture, and they seemed to thrive on what we said.”
Panel questions covered livestock and poultry production, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), food safety and agricultural technology.
“Teach your students where their food comes from, and encourage them to pursue careers in agriculture,” said Dee, who didn’t know she wanted to be involved in agriculture until college. “Start developing a knowledge for agricultural careers at a young age. Students can do much more than become a farmer when they get involved in the industry. The sky is the limit.”
Attendees toured Drury Catfish Farm, Acker Cattle Co. and the Greensboro Opera House in Hale County and Anders Row Crop Farm in Tuscaloosa County. The tour concluded with a trip to the Children’s Hands-On Museum of Tuscaloosa.
To kick off the conference, Excellence in Agriculture Teaching Award recipients presented seminars on successful agricultural projects used in their classrooms. Other activities included hands-on crafts and introductions to online resources for agricultural lesson plans and games. Teachers also received over $250 worth of educational materials for their classrooms.
In addition to materials, teachers received continuing education credits. Brown said the perks were nice, but the learning experience was invaluable.
“Farmers are our heroes. If there were no farmers, there would be no food,” she said. “I can’t wait to get back to the classroom and teach this to my students.”
Alabama Farmers Federation Women’s Leadership Division Director Kim Ramsey also chairs the AITC state committee. She said hosting the event in west Alabama showed teachers the diversity of Alabama agriculture, from row crops to cattle and catfish.
“Not only do they learn new classroom activities, they also learn directly from farmers,” Ramsey said. “The tours and panel discussion are an excellent way to dispel much of the inaccurate information consumers sometimes hear about farming.”
The Federation sponsors AITC with funding primarily from the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation’s ag tag sales. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries and state agriculture organizations also support AITC.
For more photos, visit the Federation’s Flickr or Facebook page.