The tables turned on 80 Alabama educators as they stepped outside the classroom and onto the farm at the Ag in the Classroom (AITC) Summer Institute in Huntsville June 3-5.
Teachers of kindergartners through sixth-graders became students at the 15th annual institute as they attended workshops and farm tours. Teachers visited Belle Chevre, a goat cheese creamery in Elkmont; Meridianville’s Tate Farms, an agritourism and row crop operation; and Mullins Farm, a honey and blueberry operation.
“These teachers are seeing farms first hand, sometimes for the first time,” said AITC State Committee Chairman Kim Ramsey. “They’re getting to ask questions to real farmers and are receiving information they can implement in their classrooms.”
Renee Lyons, a 22-year classroom veteran, attended the institute for the first time this year.
“Visiting the farms has absolutely been wonderful,” said Lyons, a second-grade teacher at Huntsville’s Highland Elementary School. “Now I have pictures to show students what happens on a working farm.”
The teachers received age-appropriate literature, DVDs and curriculum about farming, the environment and agricultural misconceptions. Lyons said she is excited to teach students the life lessons she learned at AITC.
“In the past, I’ve had students come to me and ask where their chocolate milk comes from,” she said. “Now I can speak to them with authority and explain where their food originates.”
Mike Tate, whose family farm dates back to 1946, visited with teachers and helped conduct tours on the farm. He said he was grateful to show educators his family’s heritage and agritourism operation.
“It’s important (to host visitors) because, in today’s world, there are many people who have never had hands-on experience on the farm,” Tate said. “Anything we can do to add to their experiences in agriculture is a good thing.”
That experience is one Lyons said she won’t soon forget.
“I would definitely recommend any teacher attend the AITC institute,” Lyons said. “I have already started making a plan about the things I am going to do in the classroom.”
AITC is sponsored by the Alabama Farmers Federation and primarily funded through the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation’s ag tag sales. Other sponsors include the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries and state agriculture organizations.
Ramsey, who is the Federation Women’s Leadership director, said teachers already are making plans to attend next year’s summer institute and are excited to share facts about agriculture with the next generation.
“It’s important for us to share agricultural information with teachers so students can share these truths with their families,” Ramsey said. “That’s the most effective way to teach agriculture.”