Harvesting Knowledge Through Ag in the Classroom
At Christa Campbell’s outdoor classroom at McFadden School of Excellence in Murfreesboro, fourth-graders weed a fruit and vegetable garden, while fifth-graders handle the planting process. Not only do the students grow and harvest produce, but they learn about math and science along the way. And they can thank the Agriculture in the Classroom program for their new learning environment.
AITC works to increase agricultural literacy through the awareness, knowledge and appreciation of agriculture.
“The main goal of the program is to teach that food and fiber comes from the farm,” says Charles Curtis, director of special programs for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, which oversees the Tennessee Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.
“Hands-on activities, such as the farm tours and outdoor gardens, are the most effective teaching tools and have a lasting impact on children.”
Both kids and adults benefit from AITC. Through the program, educators like Campbell can take advantage of a wide variety of materials ranging from lesson plans to interactive learning projects, as well as free workshops that provide training and a complimentary resource kit with up to $200 worth of materials. These workshops take place at various locations across the state.
“The teachers can take what they learn at the workshops, along with the teaching materials they receive, and incorporate them into their own individual classroom curriculums,” says Chris Fleming, associate director of special programs for the Farm Bureau.
They also have access to another aspect of the program, the Literacy Library, which is available through most county Farm Bureau offices. “The Literacy Library offers books about agriculture that are recommended for use in the classroom,” Fleming says.
Throughout the state, many teachers understand the need for agriculture education and have made great strides. Bridget Young, a first- and second-grade teacher, and Lisa Hendrickson, a paraprofessional, worked together to implement Ag Week at Alcoa Elementary in Blount County.
“In Alcoa, we’re in the city,” Young says. “A lot of kids have never seen a farm.”
Young, who has been recognized at the state and national levels for her efforts, used online AITC resources and information gained at workshops to create a week of activities that coordinated with the theme Peace, Love and Agriculture. Each day had a unique agricultural focus and topics included water, land conservation, the farmer, plants and animals.
“They think it’s just plants and animals, but it’s really your water and your land and everything that has to do with our daily lives,” she says. “Have a day without agriculture, and you wouldn’t have anything.”
Tanna Nicely, assistant principal at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet School in Knoxville, connects agriculture to other academic subjects.
“Agriculture encompasses so many of the sciences,” she says.
Nicely has been involved with the AITC program since 1990, when she decided she wanted a garden for her classroom. Through the Farm Bureau’s Outdoor Classroom Garden Mini-Grant Program, she received funding that allowed her to raise three vegetable gardens to use as learning tools.
“It helps children find out where their food comes from, how to be self-sufficient and how to make healthier food choices,” Nicely says.
Over the years, she has made significant contributions to agricultural literacy, including writing new grants that support education efforts. She developed the Jeffersonian Heirloom Garden Grant, which caught the eye of the White House. In April 2013, she took a group of five students to Washington, D.C., where they planted a kitchen garden with First Lady Michelle Obama.
Ag in the Outdoor Classroom
Back in Murfreesboro, Campbell, who teaches math and science to fourth- and fifth-graders, received information on the outdoor classroom grant after attending an AITC workshop in Nashville. She applied for the grant and received the funds to begin the project in 2012. As with Young’s Ag Week, she utilized volunteers to get the project off the ground.
“Someone knows someone who can help,” she advises.
Fleming also notes that the AITC workshops also connect teachers with noneducators known as Farm Friends.
“Farm Friends are volunteers in the community who are available to help with projects,” he explains. “Their names are included in a catalog that is given out at the workshops.”
Campbell says what began as a small garden now includes many other facets of farming, such as a chicken coop with two laying hens and a rooster.
“We have added an observation beehive in my classroom, some experimental growing in milk crates, palette gardening and a new blueberry patch,” she says. The students also continue to plant, maintain and harvest the garden’s produce, which is then donated to a retirement home.
Campbell considers the project a grand success. What’s more, the school can apply for the grant on a yearly basis to continue to receive funds to help their outdoor garden classroom grow.
“Be encouraged by someone who has done it,” she says.
Grants for Gardens
Teachers or schools interested in applying to receive a grant from the Tennessee Farm Bureau to fund an Outdoor Classroom Garden can find details and an application at tnfarmbureau.org. Click on Education & Resources, and select Grants & Tours. (Other AITC educational resources and materials are also available under the Education & Resources section.) The website lists both qualifying criteria and includes a downloadable application for both the outdoor classroom garden as well as another grant opportunity for farm tours. For questions, contact Charles Curtis, Chris Fleming or Kristy Chastine at (931) 388-7872.
Additional educational resources can be found at agclassroom.org, the website for the National AITC Association.