With the onset of a new school year, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation is busy working with educators across the state to help incorporate ag-related lessons into their curriculum.

IALF has more than 250 ready-to-use lessons for students in grades K-12, emphasizing topics such as corn, soybeans, water quality, energy, biofuels and more, notes IALF Director Kelly Foss.

“Teachers are able to just pull a kit off the shelf and incorporate ag lessons,” says Foss. “It saves them so much time. The materials are useful and quick to implement into their curriculum.”

IALF also produces other classroom materials, including a magazine for elementary and middle school students, worksheets and the “My Family’s Farm” book series that teaches how farmers raise crops, care for animals and produce renewable energy with real-life stories as told through the eyes of farm kids.

reaching out
Since being named IALF’s ex­ecutive director in April, Foss says she has been engaging with teachers, Ag in the Classroom coordinators and farm groups throughout Iowa to assess their perspectives on ag education needs and how IALF can help amplify knowledge and awareness about today’s agriculture.

“I’m really blown away by the impact being made across the state and just what a small organization like IALF can do in terms of ag efforts and initiatives,” she says. “It has really been quite an inspiration and also very helpful to connect with hundreds of professionals in the ag community.”

Before joining IALF, Foss served for 23 years as director of the Des Moines Farmers’ Market. She advanced the development of the market to become nationally recognized as one of the largest markets in the country. She developed initiatives and programs in support of farmers and producers and was awarded the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Leader Award.

Foss says farmers markets have a similar mission to ag education in “helping people connect to Iowa farmers and the food that they feed their families. So it was just a perfect segue for me.”

meeting core standards
IALF was launched in 2014 as a collaborative effort by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, commodity groups, agribusiness and other supporters. Its lessons are aligned to state and federal school core curriculum standards for science and social studies, which Foss says is an essential part of getting the information into the hands of students.

“For teachers to use something in a classroom, you can’t just say, ‘Oh, this will be really cute for kids.’ It actually needs to be aligned (with core standards), so that’s what we focus on.”

In addition to lesson plans and support materials for teachers, IALF provides grants for expenses related to taking a field trip to a farm or to purchase materials for a hands-on classroom project, such as chick hatching.

“It’s one thing to read about how chicks hatch or even watch a video online, but when these teachers can have a live chick hatching program in their classroom, it’s just so exciting and memorable for students,” says Foss. “It’s a way for teachers to incorporate many ag lessons into their science classes, their math classes, social studies and even their nutrition classes.”

And when school isn’t in session, IALF sponsors professional development workshops for teachers during the summer.

“These programs are really helpful ways for us to teach teachers, to help them learn to integrate ag lessons into subjects that they’re already teaching,” Foss says. “We take them out to their farms, and we do agribusiness tours to help them learn firsthand and give them opportunities to meet farmers and people in ag related careers across the state.”

IALF also presents an annual Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award, which in­cludes a $500 stipend to support continued efforts to integrate agriculture into classroom curriculum and an expense paid trip to the National Agriculture in the Classroom conference.

Information on the award and other IALF programs are available on the organization’s website at www.iowaagliteracy.org.