10 Easy Tips for Getting Arizona Agriculture in Your Classroom

By Cassie Lyman, Arizona Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher Chair and in ranching with her family in northern Arizona: I love sharing my Agriculture story and educating youth on where their food, fiber, and fuels come from. I feel our society is becoming agriculture illiterate and I have taken on the responsibility to help find a solutions to the complex issue. The task is not as hard as we might think.

In The Classroom: Cassie Lyman helps students understand everything about wheat including how to separate the grain from the chaff. She's event helped the children make bread in the classroom. 

I found educating students through Ag literacy and Ag in the Classroom (AITC) programs are ways I can help.  I was asked the other day how do I do it, why are teachers requesting classroom presentations, and how can someone start in their local schools? I have 10 tips I would suggest to having a successful Ag Literacy Program:

  1. Form a Relationship with your local school. Most school districts are accepting and in need of volunteers. Follow the selected school’s volunteer policy (for example: fill out required volunteer forms, submit finger prints for background check and/or just sign in while volunteering). If you have a child attending the school, start with engaging his or her teacher first, then branch out to other teachers. Ask your child’s teacher if they would be willing to let you come in and “read a book and share your story.” Or, you can contact the principal and offer the program to the school. The principal typically sends out an interest inquiry to the teachers. The best results come from the relationship you build with individual teachers that know and trust you!
  2. Know what book you will read. Pick a book that is appropriate for the grade level you are reading. Sharing books that portray agriculture accurately is a plus, but reading books where you can point out incorrect information can be good too. Knowing what book you are going to be reading before contacting your teachers is helpful. You can use books you have in your own library, the public library, or even those offered though Arizona Farm Bureau’s AITC program. Arizona Farm Bureau and American Farm Bureau have a list of what is known as “agriculture accurate” books. This list offers a broad array of books to choose from covering all age groups.
  3. Share your story. One of the most important components of your classroom visit should be the sharing of your involvement in Agriculture, especially if your family is involved in farming and/or ranching. Take five minutes to share what you do, how you do it, and why it’s important. Help students make the association to you and the food they consume. Even if you’re reading to the same class on several different occasions remind them over and over, repetition is a good thing as it helps students remember. And remember, you don’t have to be a farmer to tell an agriculture story. Perhaps you’re a plant biologist, crop advisor or you sell farm equipment in the industry. All of these “related” professions to agriculture inspire children to understand more and more about our industry.
  4. Bring something with you. Kids love hands on activities, animals, and food! And, it’s great if students can take something home to tell their parents what they learned. A few of my favorite classroom presentations and books have been: Beef In the Story of Agriculture- I brought a steer to school and had students surround the livestock trailer it was in to get a closer look while I explained who I am and what I do in Ag; Carrots- I served 5 types of carrots including baby food, frozen, store-bought fresh, store-bought baby, and garden fresh and students filled out a taste-test card scoring each type; Seed Soil Sun- We made living necklaces; Pumpkins- Made a bracelet with beads representing the lifecycle of a pumpkin; and Who Grew My Soup- Served Campbell’s Vegetable soup. Most requested by teachers has been The Little Red Hen- a wheat lesson.
  5. Ask questions, let students ask questions and answer honestly. Reinforce what students already know about agriculture by telling them, “good job” and “that’s right.” Engage with students, allowing them to ask you questions and answer them honestly. If you don’t know just say, “I’m not sure.” Be careful to keep students focused on agriculture, especially younger k-2. They often want to tell you everything under the sun. A few attention getters help positively manage students.
  6. Allow for teachers to get involved. Once you form a great relationship with teachers it’s good to find out what students are learning, allowing you to reinforce learning standards when visiting. And, teachers love this. I have found teachers value your willingness to come read to their classes and often they want to help with future program activities. Take advantage of this. For example, the first grades at my elementary school read The Little Red Hen. In this book, students learn about beginning, middle and ending story format. I have teachers read this book before I visit. Then, I come and share my Ag story with a wheat activity. I relate the book story to what happens in the real life story of wheat from farm to plate. Students thresh and grind wheat into flour, then we make bread in a bag (I bring a pre-baked loaf so they can taste the bread too). Another option for teacher involvement is to share your story, read a book and leave activities for the teacher to use throughout the week. This way, student and teacher involvement extends beyond your visit to the classroom.
  7. Use resources available. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to Ag literacy. Although you can create your own activities, be sure to use the resources available through Arizona Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom (AITC) (or your own state AITC), American Farm Bureau Agriculture Literacy Foundation, and commodity-specific organizations, and of course the internet. Just be sure to use resources you can trust that have accurate information. Keep in mind your County Farm Bureau when you need resources for “In classroom” activity supplies (they may have a budget for AITC).
  8. Participate in State Ag in the Classroom (AITC) Outreach Programs. The Arizona Farm Bureau AITC Outreach Program is amazing, but the resources are limited and are on a first come, first serve basis. The basics of the program involve teachers who signed up, receive a free book and activity (that goes along with the book) for their whole class, allowing for an opportunity to educate about agriculture. You are sent these resources as the program presenter along with a script to help you know just what to say during your visit. Two of the programs offered are Life Cycle of a Pumpkin in late October and Earth Day in April. An additional Ag Literacy Day is Dr Seuss that runs late April into early May. Contact Katie Aikins for more information at 480.635.3608 or email her at katieaikins@azfb.org.
  9. Calendar classroom visits. I feel the success of most programs comes from repetition. I have found the more Ag literacy presentations you do the more comfortable you are, the better you get at classroom management. Additionally, the better relationship you will build with teachers and the better chance you have to impress upon the mind of student where food really comes from. Try to be consistent and set up a schedule with your teacher. Decide how often you can present and offer this to your teacher. Once a month or spring and fall are good goals to have (of course depending on the number of teachers and schools you have involved).
  10. Work with local FFA Chapter. As your Ag literacy program grows and you feel you need to clone yourself to accomplish the requests of teachers, enlist the help of other agriculturalists or even the local FFA Chapter. When working with the FFA, form a relationship with the FFA Advisor and students. Find time to train students of your program expectations and provide a script for FFA students to use. Arizona Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom works extensively with FFA chapters throughout the state. Again, contact Katie Aikins if you have questions about this at 480.635.3608.

I hope you find a passion for educating students about agriculture since it’s so important. I truly enjoy the opportunity I have had to see those “Aha” moments when students make the connection to where there food comes from and what it takes to get it to them. I hope these tips help.

In the meantime, have fun reading a book about agriculture and sharing your story.

Editor’s Note: Cassie Lyman received Arizona Farm Bureau’s AITC Volunteer of the Year Award last month during the organization’s Annual Meeting. If you’re interested in getting more involved check out our Ag in the Classroom resources online and remember to contact Katie Aikins via email at katieaikins@azfb.org.

Join our Family!