FarmChat offers glimpse of life on an Iowa farm
Youngsters from across the state get to virtually visit farms, most recently learning about hog and turkey operations.
Iowa teachers and students are benefiting from a unique opportunity to learn about life on a farm through the successful and popular virtual FarmChat program, courtesy of the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation (IALF).
IALF provides support and resources to educators as they connect agricultural concepts with their current curriculum. FarmChat provides students in grades K-12 online virtual tours of Iowa farms.
Kelly Foss, IALF director, said the FarmChat program has been met with rousing applause as 259 teachers and 7,899 students from 57 Iowa counties have participated in the last three FarmChat field trips.
“IALF’s FarmChat program brings the farm experience directly into the classroom,” said Foss. “With a laptop at the school and a mobile device on the farm, students can connect with and interact with Iowa farmers.
“This immersive experience allows students to see the daily operations of a working farm and engage in discussions with experienced farmers and agriculture career experts while conveniently staying withing their classroom. Think of it as a virtual farm field trip.”
An updated webinar format has improved content and allows students to interact and chat with farmers. A moderator in the home office coordinates with a staff member at the farm, while participants ask questions and answer poll questions.
“The new formatting has greatly improved the content provided through the FarmChat program and ensures that students in attendance are able to take away new information about agriculture,” Foss explained.
The most recent farm tour was the final in a three-part series on poultry held Tuesday, Jan. 23 as part of this year’s “Gobble Up!” turkey marketing student competition, which provides educators with lesson plans and resources to teach turkey production, marketing and nutrition concepts.
In previous FarmChats, students had learned about turkey farming and unique poultry and concluded the series studying food safety and preparation.
In the program this week, students also explored different meals made with turkey from the first-place winners of the “Gobble Up!” student competition.
Pictured above: IALF Director Kelly Foss, right, with Sheila Larson at the Larson Turkey Farm, which participated in a recent FarmChat for students. PHOTO COURTESY OF IALF
An inside look
Chad and Sheila Larson own and operate Larson Turkey Farms, a multigenerational operation that raises approximately 150,000 turkeys throughout the year at three different locations, while also growing corn and soybeans.
The Larsons’ son, Grant, is a fourth-generation farmer, and Chad’s parents are still active in the operation.
In November 2023, Sheila participated in a FarmChat virtual tour for students that centered on a visit to their turkey operation. Students were able to see the outside of the barn, the workroom, how biosecurity is handled, the baby turkeys, feed and water lines, fans and technology. She said the FarmChat series is wonderful.
“I love sharing what we do as farmers,” Larson said. “I want to ensure students and their parents have access to correct information.
“There are so many misconceptions about farming in general. Most people don’t have the opportunity to visit a farm and speak directly to a farmer to get their questions answered. People are naturally going to be curious about what happens on a farm and how their food ends up on their plate.
“This program allows us to reach a mass amount of people without risking the health of our livestock. We take them inside the barns, show the animals, the technology and speak directly with them about how our farm works.”
Alex Osborn, IALF education program coordinator, said a “Learning with Pigs” FarmChat with Todd Wiley of Benton County was the first produced with the updated webinar format and was the largest FarmChat to date.
“For me, it was exciting to be able to show students a part of agriculture that many otherwise would not have had the opportunity to see firsthand due to the complexities of raising swine and the constant concern for biosecurity,” Osborn said.
From an educator’s perspective, FarmChat is a beneficial educational tool in the classroom. Teachers are provided with resources connected to Iowa Core standards to further enforce concepts learned through FarmChat.
Morgan Hibbs teaches middle school agriculture at Clear Creek Amana (CCA) and said a majority of CCA students live in urban communities.
“FarmChat brings a real-world connection to the content we are teaching in class,” she explained. “It is a great opportunity for students to ask questions and interact with the farmer or ag business professional.”
CCA students participated in the “Learning with Pigs” chat that allowed students to virtually visit the Wiley nursery in Benton County and learn about sows and piglets and how they are cared for on the farm. Hibbs registered for a virtual pork learning kit containing lessons, career posters and books to extend learning.
“FarmChat is key to engaging students in field trips they would otherwise not get to participate in,” Hibbs said. “The ease and access to leaving school for half or full days is becoming more challenging, and I think it is so important to offer unique experiences to our youth that provide awareness about the world around them.”
The students have enjoyed the experience, she said.
“A few weeks after the FarmChat, I ran into a parent whose child participated and they told me how much the student loved it,” Hibbs said. “It was such a high compliment. When a student shares information with their parents, you know it meant something to them.”
Future looks bright
Foss said she sees FarmChats continuing to grow through collaboration with Agriculture in the Classroom educators, commodity groups and farmers interested in sharing their work. Visits to more farms are scheduled.
FarmChats save on transportation and mean less time away from school, allowing educators and students to focus on the experience and student learning. Learning time is maximized and students can see and experience the farm from the classroom.
“The FarmChat program helps us showcase and emphasize the significant connection between agriculture and students’ daily lives, while making a real-time, real-life connection,” Foss said. “We focus on helping youth see the relevance of agriculture and support teachers as they integrate agriculture into their curriculum.
“Each FarmChat helps ignite interest while providing students a unique insight into where their food comes from.”
To learn more about FarmChats, visit https://www.iowaagliteracy.org/Tools-Resources/Other/FarmChat.
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