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Is agriculture part of your school's curriculum? Would you like it to be?

Welcome to Episode 20 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. In this episode, Cindy Hall of the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation, shares effective ways to work with teachers and incorporate agriculture into the classroom. The episode also includes a discussion with Carrie Padgett of RALI (Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative) about the warning signs of opioid abuse in the home.

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Narrator: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast from Iowa's leading agricultural news source. Brought to you by the Iowa Farm Bureau. Now, here's your host, Laurie Johns.

Laurie Johns: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast. This is our August 26th edition. It's also our 20th podcast episode. Wow, can you believe that? Remember, you can catch all of our past episodes and all of the stories we'll be sharing in the weeks to come in your favorite podcast apps, including Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, and more. This week's podcast episode includes a difficult but very important conversation about the opioid epidemic and once we get through that tough topic, we'll also have a back-to-school discussion with the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation about the most effective ways to work agriculture into the classroom. So if you know a teacher or a farmer who has a passion for teaching students all about farming, you'll want to share this episode with them. Okay now, let's start with a frank discussion about a crisis in this country that's happening not just in California or New York or the big cities on the coast - it's happening right here in Iowa across all ages, all economic backgrounds. I'm talking about opioid abuse. Iowa Farm Bureau just partnered with RALI Iowa and along with more than 30 organizations we're united in opioid abuse prevention treatment and recovery. RALI, and they spell that R-A-L-I, was started by a police officer who saw the front lines of opioid abuse and the tragic endings. David and his wife Carrie Padgett brought a mobile exhibit to this year's Iowa State Fair to help fairgoers see the warning signs of opioid abuse in their home. Farm Bureau's Andrew Wheeler caught up with Carrie during the fair to tour that exhibit and discuss ways to help all of us recognize and respond to opioid abuse. Let's listen to that conversation now.

Andrew Wheeler: So first off, for our audience listening at home or on the farm, tell us a little bit about the RALI program and what your goals are.

Carrie Padgett: Well, RALI is all about raising awareness about the opioid crisis in America. It's reached really epidemic proportions, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. I personally am with Code 3, which is a group that's working to build stronger connections between cops and communities. So we've joined together, it's really a partnership between us and some other groups and we work together to bring this trailer to, to educate people about where the signs of drug abuse could be in their homes, really in plain sight, right in their homes. And so we're educating them about how they could see the signs of drug abuse right in front of their noses that they might've been missing.

Andrew Wheeler: Well, you mentioned also that it's a collaborative approach and I know a lot of folks are involved. Iowa Farm Bureau is proud to be a sponsor, I know the Governor was out looking, touring your trailer during the Iowa State Fair. So it's definitely important issue. The agriculture economy has been struggling for the past six years and it's a very challenging time in rural communities whose livelihood relies on agriculture. So with stress and tough times and mental illness being a real focus and managing that stress and challenges, does that relate to some of your program's goals?

Carrie Padgett: Absolutely. Because opioid abuse actually often begins with a doctor's prescription. Because it often begins after an injury. There might've been an accident, a sports injury, often in kids, but in adults, maybe an accident on the farm, a car accident, maybe a wisdom teeth. So it would begin with a doctor's prescription and then later it grows when they can no longer get pills from a doctor, especially for kids and for teenagers, they've start buying them from their friends who are stealing them from their parents or grandparents and then when they can no longer afford it, then they turn to heroin. And nowadays heroin is being cut or mixed with fentanyl, which is a manufactured pain reliever that is also being illegally brought in from China and Mexico.

Andrew Wheeler: Now at your booth that you had set up at the state fair, and I say booth but it's really a walkthrough trailer. It's a about the size of a studio apartment, but it's set up at a house and has various different rooms. You're showing folks hands on some of the warning signs that they can see and look for. So since our audience is listening today and not able to visually see, what are some things that you could relate to them that they could be looking for either at home or loved ones if they are concerned?

Carrie Padgett: Sure, Andrew. We start in the bathroom because addiction begins very secretly and in secret. So we start in a mock bathroom because that's the most private room in the home. So in there we have a tube of toothpaste that sits on the counter, but inside the medicine cabinet there's an empty box that the tube of toothpaste came in. So I like to say why is this here? If the tube of toothpaste is on the counter, why do we have the empty box? Well, the box is hiding a syringe and a couple of bendels or wax paper envelopes that would hold drugs. So that's the type of thing we like to show people, something that's in plain sight that would you ask why? There's also some soot marks when the drug addict heats the drug up in a spoon soot builds up on the bottom of the spoon and then the soot marks get transferred to different surfaces. There's some on the sink counter, on the wall, on the light switch plate. That was a sign to first responders when they came into the home to an overdose, they saw the soot marks, knew that that meant there was ongoing drug abuse, but the parents had no clue. They thought, especially if they were living on a farm, that the kid's hands were dirty from working on equipment, did not realize that it meant that they were a drug abuser. So I like pointing that out and people are often surprised by it that it can be something that little is a sign of drug abuse. Also, we have some personal safes, they're called. They're sold online. If you Google Coke can personal safe, that one always surprises people. It looks like a soda can, feels like a soda can, but the top unscrews and inside there's some drugs and a straw that the drug addict would use for snorting the dry powder. That's always a surprise.

Andrew Wheeler: The walkthrough tour was certainly an eye opener for the folks that I walked through, and it does help to look for some of those warning signs. If you're not necessarily in the home and able to look at those, if it's maybe somebody that you interact with, a family not on a regular or daily basis, but you have a concern that there might be some potential abuse there, what advice might you have for that person?

Carrie Padgett: That's really tough because you don't want to be accused of meddling where you're not wanted, but on the other hand, you're trying to save somebody's life and I always urge people to take that view. You want to save somebody's life. So yeah, early intervention is key because we found that the earlier somebody gets into treatment, the better the chances of recovery. So yes, definitely talk to the parents. We've also found that parents are often in denial about seeing the signs and more often it's grandparents and siblings that are the first to notice the signs of drug abuse in the home.

Andrew Wheeler: For our listening audience here at home who might hear our message about your program, what would you take home advice for them be?

Carrie Padgett: Right. That remember there is no profile of an addict. It absolutely crosses every line, socioeconomic, gender, ethnicity, everything. There is no profile and that nobody is safe. We had one mom come through, she had three sons. They all had wisdom teeth out. They were all prescribed opioids. The first one took a couple, said he didn't like how they made him feel nauseous and sick. So he said no more. He just managed his pain with Tylenol. The second son took them as prescribed, finished the prescription, fine, no problem. The third son took one pill, said, ooo, I like that mom. I'm in pain. I need more. Kept badgering her, took all of them. And that started him on the path of addiction. So it's very much also a physiological reaction, how you're wired. So just be very aware of how your body responds and act accordingly.

Laurie Johns: Great job. Keep up the great work, Carrie. Opioid abuse is a problem that's going to require a committed collective effort. We're all gonna have to work together and Farm Bureau is proud to be a partner in that effort. Let's switch gears and turn to our next interview in our podcast. You know with the Iowa State Fair behind us, our minds are turning to harvest and football and the beginning of a new school year. Is agriculture part of your school's curriculum? Would you like it to be? Cindy Hall is the Education Program Manager for the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation and that's a central resource for educators and volunteers who want to teach students about agriculture. Farm Bureau's Zach Bader sat down with Cindy to discuss the foundation's work and the best ways that farmers like you can play a role in educating our next generation of leaders about ag. Are you ready for that conversation? Here it is.

Zach Bader: Cindy, obviously we're all in back-to-school mode now that the state fair's behind us. So tell us a little bit about the Ag Literacy Foundation, who's all members of that foundation and when the foundation was formed and kind of what the organization does.

Cindy Hall: You bet. So we are five years old now, the Iowa Agricultural Literacy Foundation was formed in 2014. It's really a joint effort between the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation as well as a lot of Iowa's commodity groups. So Iowa Corn Growers, Soybean Association, Iowa Beef Industry Council and many others as well as we have a lot of corporate partners and we have some grant funding, usually project-based grant funding as well. So our goal is to increase agricultural literacy across the state so that all Iowans have a good understanding of agriculture and its importance in our daily lives to our economy, to every aspect. So our staff, our main focus is K-12 education, particularly teacher focused. So we are all about resource development, providing resources in which teachers can use in the K-12 classrooms, both science focus and social studies focus, but also tied to language arts instruction and even some math ties. And then we also work, our secondary audience is others, really it's anyone who's teaching others about agriculture. So we work with a great network of agriculture in the classroom coordinators across the state. Those positions are both volunteer and paid positions. Usually organized through the local county Farm Bureaus. That has grown immensely in recent years. And so we provide training opportunities and materials for them to pass on to teachers too and to directly take into classrooms through classroom programming. We also provide some written materials, so we write lesson plans aligned to Iowa science and social studies standards as well as some teachers say that they need good nonfiction text. So we provide some good nonfiction texts for students that ties to social studies and science, but it's the content is agriculture. So we're hopeful that teachers can use that, plug it into language arts lessons or science lessons or social studies lessons. They're accomplishing what they need to accomplish but then also we're teaching Iowa students about agriculture. And then the other realm that we work within is professional development. So we offer a lot of summer teacher workshops. They're mostly in the summer. We do have a few online courses throughout the school year, but we just finished our round of 11 two day teacher workshops that qualify for license renewal or graduate credit. And that's an excellent way to get into classrooms, to get the teachers excited, show them agribusinesses, show them, take them on farms, let them ask the questions firsthand. And then on the second day of the workshops, we provide examples of lesson plans that then they can take into their classrooms to translate what they saw and learned and how can they translate that in a classroom setting.

Zach Bader: So obviously teachers are a busy group and they have a lot that's already on their curriculum, a lot of things that they need to do and topics that they need to cover. You mentioned some of the things that you do with teachers. How do you get them engaged in? Is it engaging the teacher? Is it engaging the administration? What's the most successful way that you've found to help get agriculture into the classroom?

Cindy Hall: Sure! Well, it's all of all of the above. Usually directly to the teacher. With the local Agriculture in the Classroom efforts it's mostly about relationship building for that coordinator to really develop a relationships with the teachers do an amazing program with one teacher and word spreads quickly throughout that school building and pretty soon they're carrying corn plants into every classroom to share their message and to do these lessons. Same with our resources. Once a teacher comes to a teacher professional development then they're telling their friends. And we have a lot of repeat customers. We had one teacher attend four of our summer teacher workshops. She traveled across the state. And that's not uncommon for teachers to travel two or three hours to a workshop because it's so unique. It's such a unique learning opportunity for them. But the key to get any one in within the education system to utilize our resources is to really showcase that it's not asking them to teach one additional thing, cause you're right, they don't have time for anything else in the school day. They need to teach science and social studies and language arts and math. But instead what we're doing is we're helping them teach that through an agriculture lens. So it's teaching science through agriculture. One of my favorite, I love plants and plant science and my goal, one of my goals and what we with Ag Literacy Foundation do is just to replace a little bit what they're currently doing or compliment what they're currently doing with an Iowa agriculture tie. So I always say ditch those lima bean seeds when you're teaching planting seed parts and instead use soybeans that are grown throughout the state that kids travel past on their way to school on the bus, but use that as an opportunity to teach plant science but also help them learn about what's around them in Iowa.

Zach Bader: So how do you convince a teacher then or kind of sell them on the idea that, like you said, agriculture can be incorporated into so many areas and yet as a teacher, I've been maybe teaching this topic in this particular way. How do you convince them that agriculture would be a good compliment or a good substitute along the way? In addition to it just fitting in, how do you convince them of the importance of it and that it should maybe be part of their curriculum?

Cindy Hall: Yeah. So we go about that both ways. One is to show our excitement and passion for agriculture and help tell that story of what Iowa farmers are doing and how high tech it is. And then that once they see that and understand that, it's an obvious that, oh goodness, I need to be sharing we're teaching STEM in the classroom. I need to be telling them how Iowa farmers and their neighbors are using STEM. So then it becomes more natural for them once they learn more about agriculture practices today and see the science and technology in it. It's an aha moment and it's, oh my, I need to share this with my students.

Zach Bader: What are some of the most common questions you get from teachers who are interested in involving this kind of program? Or what do they want to know about it?

Cindy Hall: Yeah. So about, they ask tons of questions about agriculture. They're just curious. A lot of the teachers that work with us already have some connection to agriculture. They grew up on a farm, but they still may not be doing a lot currently to teach our students about agriculture. So they just want help figuring out what those connections are to what they're already teaching and our two day summer workshops really guide them through that, but then they usually, they'll want to know what resources are available. So in, throughout everything we do, we're always showcasing all the resources that we have. So a couple examples of things that we have lesson plans for teachers of course, but we also have a student reader, a magazine, when I was a kid weekly reader was really popular, so it's similar to that. And teachers love utilizing that with students. They are using it from multiple hours of instruction throughout a week. They may pull it out several times throughout the year and engage our students in reading articles related to different topics. And then one of our most popular resources is the my family farm book series. We now have six books in the series that each focus on a different plant or animal grown in Iowa. So we have my family's beef farm, my family's pig farm, my family's corn farm and teachers will request printed copies of those, one per student or one for their class to do it with the younger students, they'll do it as a read aloud with kindergarten, first graders. With older students they'll have the students read them independently or maybe in small group they'll break the students into groups based on reading level and have them practice reading it. So it's really language arts instruction, but the students are learning about soybeans, are learning about corn.

Zach Bader: And I've spoken to so many farmers who I think are really passionate, enthusiastic about this idea of we need to work to get agriculture incorporated into the classroom and just build that education from due to the fact that, again, the population as we know is becoming less and less connected to agriculture. How do you incorporate farmers into what you're doing? Local farmers, is through the county Farm Bureau? Do you involve them as well?

Cindy Hall: So it's probably mostly through the county Farm Bureaus, through those local Agriculture in the Classroom programs. And if we get a call from a teacher, the first thing we do is try to put them in touch with someone locally. We can surely go in their classroom. And we do occasionally, but we'd rather put them with someone in their community that can go in on a regular basis, that can develop those relationships, that can bring something to their classroom, that can hopefully help the ag literacy outreach component grow beyond our 20, 30 minute program that we might come into. So it's not hard. So many farmers, they want to tell their story and they love working with students and talking to students and teachers. So it's just about making those connections and matching them up. We also have some farmers that approach us usually through Iowa Farm Bureau settings, but they want to get involved and they want to do more. So then we just, we just share with them some ideas on, I love the idea of adopting a classroom, reach out to one classroom. Just make that introduction to the teacher that you're a farmer, you're using a lot of science and technology on that farm, on your farm. What can you do to help share that with the students? And the teacher may invite them to come talk to their class. Maybe they provide a half bushel of corn or soybeans to put into a sensory table. And with the younger students, do something with science experience, provide some materials for them or one of one of our programs that we love seeing grow across the state is a program called Farm Chat. And that's using technology like Skype or Google Hangouts, a virtual kind of a video conference call to take students on a virtual field trips. So instead of bringing students on your farm, having to have the bus, having any safety and liability issues, it's all virtual. So we work with farmers on that, how to use the technology. We also work with teachers, we get teachers excited about this as an option at our teacher workshops. And often they reach out to farmers on their own. Almost every farmer has a smartphone now and that's all you need in order to do Farm Chats. But we can provide some resources to make it easier. Some examples of outlines that other teachers, and a lot of times it's that agriculture, that local agriculture and the classroom coordinator that is really the facilitator between the farmer and the teacher. We can do that as well, but in a lot of counties there's a local person there that we have already helped become comfortable with Farm Chat and use that as a very good educational tool that then they help grow those Farm Chat programs locally.

Zach Bader: And have you had a lot of different farmers, county Farm Bureaus, schools around the state take you up on that Farm Chat?

Cindy Hall: Oh my goodness. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but last year I think Farm Chat programs occurred in roughly half of Iowa's counties reaching thousands of students. And all of the Farm Chat programs are different. We have students virtually ride along in a combine as farmers are harvesting corn or soybeans. We've had the iPads in Turkey barns, hog barns, pig barns showing the students that animal agriculture component that even if you did have a group of students, if you had a farmer that would let them into a livestock facility and overlook the biosecurity issues and brought the students in and a teacher that agreed to let the students in the students probably wouldn't learn very much because of there's so much going on, so much to see, so many smells, so many sounds, it would be hard to get their attention. With Farm Chat that's taken away. They see the animals, they see the farmer, they listen to the farmer. It's really a captive audience without a lot of the other distractions.

Zach Bader: Can you share any numbers or anything that indicates, obviously this is an area where over the last few years you guys have been making a lot of progress? Folks are excited about getting more agriculture incorporated into the classroom?

Cindy Hall: So I do have some of the numbers in front of me. So in 2014, it was a little over 30,000 students reach through ag literacy programs in Iowa. So we had been on board six months of that year. We were doing a little bit at that time and now we're almost to 230,000 students reached and that's rough, it's about half of the elementary students in Iowa that are being reached through some ag literacy efforts. So that could be through their local Agriculture in the Classroom programs. It could be a teacher that took our teacher workshops and is sharing the agriculture message with their students. Could be students that received some of our student publications or Iowa Ag Today or read a My Family Farm book series or participated in a Farm Chat. It really encompasses all of it and we look forward to that number growing in the next years as well.

Zach Bader: So if you have a farmer, again who's listening to this, wants to be part of that momentum that the Ag Literacy Foundation has created over the last couple of years along with county Farm Bureau and Ag in the Classroom programs want to be part of that momentum, where's a good place for them to reach out. Do they want to get in touch with you or do they start at the county level? How would you recommend?

Cindy Hall: So your county Farm Bureau's always good, but I'd also recommend getting in touch with us if you can remember a website or just Google Iowa Ag in the Classroom and you'll get to us or the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation. Our website is You can send us an email at or our phone number is (515) 331-4183.

Laurie Johns: Alright then. Who's ready to get back to school? Raise your hands, class. Well, if you're ready to bring ag education to the students in your local school, we'd certainly recommend you contact your county Farm Bureau or the Iowa Ag Literacy Foundation. Again, their website is and here's the phone number (515) 331-4183. That's all for this episode of The Spokesman Speaks Podcast. Be sure to tune in for our next episode of the podcast on September 9th. Until next time, thanks for reading The Spokesman. Thanks for all the great stories and the inspiration, and thanks again for listening to The Spokesman Speaks.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcasts and articles from The Spokesman at You can also find and subscribe to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast in the Apple Podcasts app, Google Play, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at

About The Spokesman Speaks Podcast

Since 1934,  The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it is the largest circulation ag newspaper in Iowa. While the Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, reaching farmers on-the-go with stories that matter to them. You can find episodes of the podcast here or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneInRadio, or

We release new podcast episodes every other Monday. Episode 21 will be released on September 9.