More than anything, I didn’t want to be “that mom” to my daughter’s fifth-grade teacher. You see, I was very concerned about a writing assignment with a slightly anti-animal agriculture slant.

The class had read a book called “The Night Before Thanksgiving,” a seemingly-innocent tale about a group of school children who visit a turkey farm. They discover what Farmer Mack Nugget, whose illustrations become dark and shadowy, has in mind for their feathered friends, so they rescue the birds and they all celebrate a “living” Thanksgiving.

The assignment was to write a persuasive letter to the farmer from the turkey’s point of view, pretty much begging him to spare its life.

I watched my daughter set her wheels in motion. She’s a great writer with a wonderful imagination and she quickly developed an email campaign that would be sent to the farmer’s in-box.
As a mom, I was thrilled to see her initiative at the creative writing assignment.

As a livestock writer, I was worrying about a classroom of kids that could be developing a biased perspective of agriculture. The book didn’t offer an accurate portrayal of how a farmer really runs his farm, how he offers his livestock access to shelter, food and medical attention; much like he or she does for his or her own family members. Modern livestock facilities that employ strict biosecurity measures help control the spread of possible disease and even protect animals from diseases carried by birds.

Today’s farmers know exactly how much food an animal needs to grow, how much room they need to safely deliver their young and how to identify possible health conditions. Animal agriculture is so much more than reducing it to a sinister drawing of a sneering farmer holding an ax. To live in a state that is the top producer of products such as pork, eggs and corn, kids need to be learning about agriculture.

So, even though I didn’t want to be “that mom,” who tells the teacher what I think she should be doing in her classroom; I knew that I couldn’t be “that ag writer” who didn’t speak up for agriculture and try to get some accurate information into the classroom.

So I wrote my own persuasive letter to my daughter’s teacher. I explained my perspective as an agriculture-related employee and the wife of a former farmer.

It really turned into a learning experience for everyone involved. The teacher was happy to host an area farmer in the classroom, allowing the kids to learn about a livestock operation and ask questions.
I worked with Cindy Hall, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s Ag in the Classroom coordinator for Dallas and Polk counties. She worked with the teacher and arranged the visit.

The kids’ questions were amazing, ranging from wondering how much it cost to feed and raise a herd of cattle, to why chemicals are used on fields, to why animal identification with ear tags is so important.
But they never questioned the ultimate reason for farming: to feed a hungry world. When the farmer said he worked as hard as he did to help raise an animal to become a tasty steak, no one batted an eye.
Well, maybe my daughter rolled her eyes at her mom a bit when I attended the classroom session and took notes and photos. But I was proud to be both a caring mom and a responsible farm writer.
That I could live with.

How do you handle situations like that? Do you speak up or stay silent? Has your child learned about agriculture at school, beyond the apple orchard visit? All it takes is a phone call…or even a persuasive letter (or email) to bring a farmer’s story to the classroom.

Written by Heather Lilienthal
Heather is an Ag Commodities Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.