By Katie Aikins, Arizona Farm Bureau Education Director: Katie Aikins here. For those of you who do not know me, I am the Director of Education at the Arizona Farm Bureau (AZFB). Although the role is new, my time within the Farm Bureau family is not. I began my Farm Bureau Career 12 years ago with the Cook County Farm Bureau (Chicago, Illinois), serving as the Director of Public Relations and Education. My goal was to teach inner city students about where their food came from and facilitate programs that fostered an understanding of modern agriculture. After all, everyone should know that corn does not grow in cans and that brown cows do not produce chocolate milk.

After a year and a half, the weather drove me out of Chicago and back to my hometown of Gilbert, Arizona. It was then, 10 years ago, that I started my career with the Arizona Farm Bureau. After serving as a Field Manager for a little over a year, I was given the opportunity to develop an Ag in the Classroom (AITC) program through the Arizona Farm Bureau. We started small, reaching just over 24,000 students and teachers. Each year the program grows and this year it will have reached over 100,000 teachers and students.

What exactly does a Director of Education do? Well, I guess that depends on the day, week, and the time of year. Below, you will get a little taste of what life is like during one of AITC’s three Ag Literacy events.

The first week of our AG Literacy events is usually very busy. Our Spring Event was no exception! A total of 500 classrooms signed-up for the presentation that included the story The Cow in Patrick O’Shanahan’s Kitchen and an interactive activity for the students. In addition to giving presentations myself, I was also responsible for managing the 5 FFA Chapters and 3 AITC Interns who were in classrooms during this same time.

Second in a Series about Arizona Farm Bureau's support team. First: Week-in-the-Life: Arizona Farm Bureau's Government Relations Director

Day 1 

I arrived at the office by 7:30 am to pack all the student and teacher materials that I would need for the day’s presentations. After packing the truck for the day, I fielded teacher requests for presentations, and then attended an all-staff meeting from 9 am-10 am. I had to be at Eduprize – Queen Creek Campus by 10:30 am so I quickly scooted out of the office. I arrived at the school office just in time to get signed in and…oops… I forgot my ID in the truck and needed it to sign-in at this school. I ran back to the truck and then back to the office to get signed-in. I got to the first classroom just in time for the first presentation. Luckily this was my only school for the day. I spent the next 4 hours bouncing from class to class, teaching the 30-minute presentation to the nine first grade classrooms. Luckily, some of the classes doubled up so I had a few treasured moments in the office. This is a rarity during Ag Literacy Events! I took full advantage of the hour in the office and completed a Foundation Request for funding and the White Reinhardt Grant application. I was determined to get my inbox to zero so I spent some time scheduling classes and answering questions. I packed the truck for the next couple of days of presentations since I would not see the office again until Wednesday afternoon.

Locked and Loaded: With books for Ag Literacy Week.

Day 2

I had the opportunity to teach students at Safford High School about the many Misconceptions of Agriculture, Biotech What the Heck, and a little about Arizona Agriculture.  The morning began early with a 4:30 am departure from Phoenix to arrive in Safford with enough time to set up for a 7:40 am first-hour class. I had a total of five classes for the day. I always enjoy visiting with the rural kids. Although I am always amazed that they harbor many of the same misconceptions about agriculture as the city kids do. I used the 2 ½ hour windshield time back home to brainstorm how AITC can make a greater impact.

Day 3

It was back to the elementary classroom and Ag Literacy presentations for me. I had all kindergarten classes this day; I absolutely love this grade level! Coronado Elementary in the Higley Unified School District was the first stop. This was a quick stop with only four classrooms. The next stop was Riggs Elementary in Chandler. I had the privilege of working with another four classes at this school. From there I headed back to the office to resupply for the next day of presentations. The little bit of office time allowed me to design a booth that we would be using later in the week at a school-wide STEAM Event. I was grateful for an hour in the office. Of course, the inbox had once again begun filling and I had to address that situation. If you know me, you know that I prefer the inbox to be at zero.

Day 4

Another day of Ag Literacy Presentations fill my schedule. After heading to the office to pack for the day I arrived at San Tan Elementary in Gilbert for the 1st of five ag literacy presentations. I grabbed some lunch and then headed over to Boulder Creek Elementary in Mesa for four more classes of Ag Literacy Presentations. Once my presentations were completed I headed back to the office to put together a booth for the evening STEAM Event. By 5:00 pm I was at Peralta Trail Elementary in Gold Canyon. This was a great event and allowed for lots of conversation and education about Arizona agriculture. I was grateful to have had some help at this event.  Sharman Hickman from Hickman’s Family Farms and Farm Bureau Financial Services Agent, Matt Schmidbauer, helped at the booth. After all the education and egg distribution we finally headed out at 8:00 pm.

Day 5

I made it to Friday! First up was Country Meadows Elementary in Litchfield Park. This meant some rush-hour windshield time in order to make it for the 8:30 am presentation. I always like windshield time. It allows me time to brainstorm and plan for upcoming events, grants, proposals, etc.  There are 10 classes at the first school. Luckily they have doubled-up so that I can still squeeze one more school in later that afternoon. I headed out of Litchfield Park at 1:00 pm and pushed it to make it to Bridges Elementary in Mesa by 2:00 pm. I made it, somehow I always do. I rounded out the last two presentations of the day and headed back to the office by 3:30. I packed the truck, answered emails, and checked in with the AITC Interns and FFA Chapters to be sure that everyone was set for the 2nd week of Ag Literacy Presentations.

Throughout the year, Arizona Farm Bureau's Ag in the Classroom partners with Farm Bureau Financial Services for educational community outreach as does one of our biggest farmer partner team members, Hickman's Family Farms. Hickman Family member, Sharman Hickman, is working with Aikins to spearhead the farm family's sponsorship of  The Arizona's Cardinals team with a speacial From Farm to Football Program. This and other program events extend our farm and ranch life reach to Arizona Families.

So, what do you do exactly?

Well, it depends on the day, the week, the time of year. Regardless of the daily schedule, AITC’s days are filled with classroom visits, community events and programs that educate the public about where their food comes from!

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