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Agriculture in the Classroom

Membership: 48 states and six territories

Organization Focus: Educating K-12 students about the importance of agriculture

Years Since Founding: 34

Program Focus: Recognition for teachers who successfully use agriculture to teach and engage with students

With less than 2 percent of our population responsible for producing the nation’s food, there’s no question that the majority of Americans have little understanding of agriculture. This separation from the farm is concerning, and in 1981 the U.S. Department of Agriculture was determined to do something about it by establishing the National Agriculture in the Classroom initiative.

This national organization, which has member state chapters throughout the country and in six U.S. territories, helps educate students from kindergarten through high school about where their food, fuel and fiber come from, not by teaching agriculture outright, but by using agriculture to teach other subjects such as science, math and social studies. It does this by developing and making available on the national Agriculture in the Classroom website an array of lesson plans – well over 100 in all – for individual teachers to use in their classrooms. The organization has reached more than 6 million students nationally, with 150,000 in-service and pre-service teachers using its resources.

“Teachers are looking for fun ways to engage their students,” says Lisa Gaskalla, president of the National Agriculture in the Classroom organization and the executive director of the Florida organization. “A lot of our plans are experiential, helping to reach students who are more challenged, but also challenging high-performing students.”

Teachers are looking for fun ways to engage their students

By bringing agriculture into the classroom via other subjects, Agriculture in the Classroom hopes to educate American youth about the challenges of growing food and how essential the agriculture industry is to our ongoing well-being as individuals and as a nation. One way the organization encourages teachers to use the available resources is through the annual National Teacher Award program, which is funded in large part by Farm Credit’s national contributions program.

Missy Locke, a 2014 winner, established a school garden that she incorporates into science lessons. She says, “When we started our outdoor classroom/garden, I quickly discovered how little my students knew about farming, agriculture, and the process of how their food gets to their plate. I think it is vital for our children to understand the work of a farmer and the role that farmer plays in their everyday life.”

“I use agriculture in my gifted classroom because students must focus on an overarching problem – how will fewer people feed more people on less land,” says Raymond Peavy, another 2014 award winner. “This is a great question for all citizens, but it really gets fourth graders thinking. As with most issues, if we get young students thinking about the bigger picture, they will carry this thinking home and throughout their lives.”