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Growing ag learners

Growing ag learners
Cedar County Farm Bureau members, from left to right, Mark Farrington, Noah Coppess and Devon Schott show fourth-graders at Tipton Elementary School how seeds germinate during a lesson on the value of cover crops. The Cedar County Farm Bureau is expanding its Ag in the Classroom program.

The Cedar County Farm Bureau recently set a goal of teaching every student in the county about agriculture.

Over the past few months, the Cedar County Farm Bureau has moved forward with plans to launch an Ag in the Classroom (AITC) program to introduce ag curriculum to area elementary schools.

The county Farm Bureau is looking to hire an AITC coordinator to start working with the schools this fall, explains Noah Coppess, a Cedar County Farm Bureau member and farmer from Stanwood who helped jump-start the effort to expand AITC in the county.

In addition, the Cedar County Farm Bureau successfully applied for a SHARE grant from the Iowa Farm Bureau to purchase equipment for FarmChat, an educational program that connects students in the classroom to farmers in the field using mobile video technology.

“A very small percentage of the kids in the school districts actually live on a farm — or get to be on a farm,” Coppess says. “So we are trying to help everybody else understand where their milk and bread comes from.”

Cedar County is one of several county Farm Bureaus across the state that are expanding AITC activities and delivering ag curriculum to more Iowa students.

In the last three years, the number of students reached through county AITC efforts increased 375 percent, from 16,000 K-12 students in 2013 to 60,165 students in 2016, according to the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation (IALF).

Overall, ag literacy efforts by county AITC programs and the IALF reached 41 percent of Iowa K-6 students in 2016.

While most AITC activities are volunteer-driven, at least 35 county Farm Bureaus now have staff working on AITC programs.

The growth in AITC activities was sparked, in part, by the launch of the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation in 2013. With a full-time staff of three based at the Farm Bureau headquarters in West Des Moines, the IALF serves as a central resource for educators and volunteers who want to teach Iowa’s students about agriculture.

However, it’s the county Farm Bureaus that have taken the initiative in expanding AITC programs throughout the state, says Cindy Hall, education program manager for the IALF.

Hall says the IALF offers ready-made lesson plans that comply with Iowa CORE standards to help volunteers and staff looking for classroom activities for all grade levels. The lesson plans are available online at http://www.iowaagliteracy.org/.

“The standards can be overwhelming if you don’t have the background in education, but that’s kind of what we do. We can interpret that,” she adds.




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