How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I have been using Ag in the Classroom materials and resources in my classroom for many years. I first heard about CFAITC at a garden workshop where they had a booth and was thrilled to find so many resources and materials that were relevant to what I was teaching and very user friendly.
How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
I have been teaching for 15 years. I decided to become an educator because I wanted to have a job that I could give back to my community in a positive way, and would continue to learn and grow. I have always loved working with children and love their energy, curiosity and sense of wonder. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t continue learning from them and being inspired by them.
What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
The annual statewide conference is my favorite event. It is always so inspiring to meet all of the different people that attend it and learn about the many amazing things that are going on around the state. It is a wealth of resources and knowledge. It is also a really fun and well-organized event. I look forward to it every year.
What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you?
Agriculture awareness and education has grounded me in what is essential and important for us all as human beings. Agriculture is the foundation for all other aspects of our lives; it is essential that we all understand where our food comes from and why it is important to take care of ourselves and the world around us so that we can be a part of a healthy ecosystem. By connecting with our food and the earth, I have found a sense of place, and a grounding in what is really important, which has allowed me to share this with my students and peers.
Has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
Agriculture, and specifically gardens, play a huge role in the way I educate students. We have developed a large outdoor garden classroom that is right outside my classroom door. I spend part of every day with my students, and with other classrooms, in the garden, connecting them to nature, their food, and each other. There is not a lesson or a concept that I am not able to address in the garden. It provides everything I need as an educator to create exciting, hands-on, relevant lessons that engage and inspire the students.
Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
One person who has influenced me the most, especially in regards to garden education, is Carol Hillhouse from the UC Davis Children’s Garden program. I took her class my sophomore year in college and was introduced to the magic and wonder of a garden classroom and the potential it had to educate children across all spectrums of the curriculum, all while addressing life and social skills. As I continued to work in the garden program for the next two years, it had a profound impact on the direction of my career. I have had the great fortune to return to that garden over the years and learn from Carol through workshops and other activities. Carol has never lost her enthusiasm for teaching children through a garden setting and she has dedicated her life to inspiring the next generation to make a difference. Carol, and the UC Davis Children’s Garden, continue to be a source of inspiration and knowledge for me that keeps me motivated to do this work.
Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
I am lucky to say that I have many golden teaching moments that keep me so motivated to keep promoting agricultural literacy in my lessons. Just recently, after a lesson on photosynthesis, I set the kids free to explore and harvest. I wandered upon two little boys that had crawled under the pole bean structure and hidden themselves among the tendrils, pods and leaves. They were using the long beans as action figures, having created characters from the skinny little veggies. Each character had a name. One little boy was saying, “My name is Captain Energy, the king of photosynthesis! I have magical powers that take sunlight and turn it into food!” The second child replied, “And I am Captain Germination, I can grow roots and shoots!”
Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
This past spring, with a Literacy for Life Grant from Ag in the Classroom, we were able to build a greenhouse in our garden. We are excited to start our own seedlings this fall. Next to the greenhouse, we recently built an outdoor kitchen and covered classroom. We have been using it on a regular basis to integrate the food grown in the garden into opportunities to prepare different seasonal recipes and meals to share with the students and the community. We have also had a farmer’s market every Friday at the end of the school day where parents can purchase food grown in the garden to take home and prepare with their children. This has been an amazing way to connect with many of the families and turn them on to the food that their kids have been telling them all about after their garden classes!
Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
Find the joy in the simple things. Let the kids get dirty! Have a place designated just for digging. They love it! Also, when I am teaching garden-based nutrition and doing tastings, I tell students that we are training our brain to like things we may not think we like. I say, open your mind and take just a little nibble. Eventually they may find they actually do like whatever it is we are trying. It is neat to see how their preconceived notion of what is good or bad changes throughout the year. When kids have a connection to where the food comes from and some ownership of having been a part of growing it, many students end up liking a wide variety of fruits and veggies.
Finally, take time in the garden to just enjoy the space and teach your students how to “be” in nature. Turn them on to the natural wonders that surround them in these magical places. It is from these places that the greatest curiosities and wonders will arise, and then the teaching and learning will be easy, inspired by our natural and inquisitive spirit. Relax and allow yourself to have fun and explore, letting the children lead the way!
Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today’s society?
Food is everything, and understanding where it comes from and what is needed to keep agriculture thriving is essential to our existence as human beings. As we see our children spending more and more time in front of screens at school and at home, it has become even more important that, as an educational system, we create opportunities for our children to connect with the earth and learn the lessons that only it can teach us. We cannot truly learn how to plant a field and tend it through a simulated computer game. We must actually put our hands into the soil and feel its warmth as we plant the seed. We must tend to that young seedling and help nurture it into a strong plant, blossoming as it grows. We must feed that plant and help it produce the fruit that will nourish our body, mind and spirit. We must eat that fruit, right off of the vine, and appreciate what has gone into it. We must take that seed, from that fruit, and put it back into the soil and repeat the cycle. Only then will we truly understand the power of the earth and ground ourselves in its bounty. No screen can teach us this, only being a part of it will do that. When we understand this, then we will also understand how connected we are to all other life, and to each other, creating a sense of respect and worth that may not have existed before.