Teacher Feature – Autumn Hesser

Autumn HesserWe asked Autumn Hesser, a kindergarten teacher at Valley Springs Elementary School in Calaveras County, about her experiences with agriculture education.

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.

2014 Literacy for Life Grants Announced

We are excited to announce the 2014 Literacy for Life Grant recipients! These grants are designed to initiate new projects or expand existing projects that promote agriculture literacy. Congratulations to this year’s recipients.

Suzanne Squires, Outstanding Educator
Popcorn Genetics
Los Olivos School
Santa Barbara County

Christina Alton
Carlsbad Flower Field Interactive Workshop
Our Lady of Sacred Heart
San Diego County

Marisol Alvarez
Edible Garden
Buttonwillow School District
Kern County

Louise Battles
Mountain View Elementary Ag Day
Mountain View Elementary
Los Angeles County

Kristina Beltz
Growing With Fruits and Veggies
E.M. Downer Elementary
Contra Costa County

Dale Cangiano
The Ranch Comes to Mark Twain!
Mark Twain School
Orange County

Haley Clement
Food and Garden Waste Composting Program
Liberty Ranch High School
Sacramento County

Susan Deogracias
Capt. Ray’s Corral school year garden
Captain Raymond Collins School
Los Angeles County

August Deshais
Kinder Gardeners
Ridgewood Elementary
Humboldt County

Robin Dick
Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?
Westminster High School
Orange County

Leslie Gracia
Mt George Student Garden Action Project
Mount George International School
Napa County

Naomi Harper
Who Grew My Lunch?
Will Rogers Middle School
Sacramento County

Melina Kust
Garden Chefs
STEAM Academy at Burke
Los Angeles County

Britt Legaspi
From a Farm to My Table!
Eagle Rock Elementary School
Los Angeles County

Debbie Lewis
Healthy Eating at school
Buckeye School of the Arts
Shasta County

Antonio Magana
Healthy Food!
Glenn L. Martin Elementary School
Orange County

Jean Mahoney
Farmer to Table
Branciforte Middle School
Santa Cruz County

Bobbe Maxey
Winter Garden, Grub and Garbage: The 3 G’s of Growing Nutritious Food
Willow Glen Middle School
Santa Clara County

Carol Mendenall
Literacy for All
Fipps Primary School
Fresno County

Yolanda Munoz
The Impact of Oranges and the Transcontinental Railroad in California
Sierra Madre School
Los Angeles County

Linda Nelson
Ancient Civilization Herb Garden
Newman Elementary School
San Bernardino County

Stacie Ryan
Youth Ag Day at the Solano County Fairgorunds
Anna Kyle Elementary School
Solano County

Ericka Spires
ENCORE Grows and Learns
Encore School
Contra Costa County

Jeff Steeno
Street Salad
Buena Vista Horace Mann
San Francisco County

Natalie Stevano
San Francisco Flower & Garden Show
Gregori High School
Stanislaus County

We will keep you posted on the grant projects throughout the school year!

Teacher Feature – Kristina Beltz

Kristina BeltzWe asked Kristina Beltz, a third and fourth grade teacher at E.m. Downer Elementary School in Contra Costa County, about her experiences with agriculture education.

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I first learned of Ag in the Classroom in May 2012 when I piloted a lesson plan.

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
This is my tenth year teaching elementary school. I became a teacher because I really enjoy working with kids, and I like connecting with them on an emotional level as well as curricular.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
My favorite AITC resource is the What’s Growin’ On? student newspaper because it’s free and easy to incorporate into my classroom.

What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you?
The biggest impact agricultural education has had on me is meeting the farmers. This past summer I visited Lundberg Family Farms in Oroville, a large organic rice farm. It was incredible to walk in the rice fields and actually see where rice comes from. I figure if a memory like this had such an impact on me, then similar experiences are just as important for my students. It inspired me to visit a farm this school year with my students.

Has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
Agriculture definitely impacts how I educate students. As I learn more I’m encouraged to teach them differently. I’m noticing that I’m focusing on real-life experiences as much as possible rather than just reading about it from a book (as great as books are).

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
My dad’s side of the family has really influenced my education, specifically my late aunt Lynn. She was a very smart, capable woman who was doing many things at the same time. She worked for a local water agency when I was growing up and was always pushing water conservation. When I chose an Environmental Science degree in college, she encouraged me to intern at her business as one of the educators on staff. Even now as I’m a general education teacher, my love of science, conservation, and agriculture comes through.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
One of my favorite things about teaching is getting students addicted to reading. After finishing a graduate degree in Literacy, it’s clear that if a student is into reading, he/she will be self-motivated to learn beyond what a teacher can teach. Studies show these students will also be more prepared for adult life, college, and careers. My favorite is to hear students talking about books. Last year when my husband visited the class, a student came up to him and asked if he’d like a book recommendation. It was awesome!

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
Our class has a small project going where we have various insects visit the class. We learn about them and how they are helpful or harmful.

Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
When teachers see me doing some wacky project with my class, the most frequent question they ask is what standard it is covering. My response is what standards is it not covering! My advice to teachers on implementing agriculture is, first pick an idea of something you’d like to do, then find standards to match. You will easily find standards in language arts, math, science, history, art (yes, there are art standards), etc. It makes the process more fun for you and more memorable for them!

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today’s society?
I love this question. It is very important for students to be agriculturally literate because soon they will be making buying and voting decisions as adults. The majority of the American population is urban; detached from farm life. Many adults don’t know why one food is healthier than another, or where their food comes from; I guarantee their children don’t know either. With awesome programs like AITC, that can change.

Teacher Feature – Kathie Griley

Kathie-GrileyWe asked Kathie Griley, director of culinary programs at the Sacramento Campus of The International Culinary Schools at the Art Institutes, about her experiences with agriculture education.

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I had heard about Ag in the Classroom for some time – through industry networking – but recently got involved when contacted by Ag in the Classroom to host the filming of Bon a la Beef on our campus.

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
My background is in restaurant management, which led me into a training position with the California Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.  From there I moved into a full-time culinary arts/management Instructor at the Art Institutes.  I am now the director of six culinary arts programs.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
I think the work AITC does to reach and teach school-age children about the importance of agriculture to their personal health, and to the economy of our state, is extremely important.

What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you?
Living in this area and being able to access fresh fruits and vegetables all year-round from farmers markets has help me develop a real appreciation for agriculture, as well as respect for the farmers who grow it.

Has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
Our curriculum focuses heavily on sustainability and sustainable farming practices.  We incorporate this into all of our classes.

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
I can’t really pick one person, but earning my master of education had a huge impact on the way I view teaching and education.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
Anytime I have a student shout out, “I GET IT!”

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
Our campus and our students were very motivated with Sacramento’s recent Farm-to-Fork celebration.

Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
By teaching agriculture, young people will become more educated about healthy eating habits and choices.  Reach out to organizations like Ag in the Classroom and utilize all the wonderful tools they have to help you do that!

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today’s society?
Again, I think being educated on how to make healthy choices for themselves and their families has a huge impact on the health of our nation.

Apply Now for a California Specialty Crop Taste Test Grant

Specialty Crop Taste Test LogoV_2_green and Yellow

Be one of 250 educators to introduce your students to new fruits and vegetables with a $200 California Specialty Crop Taste Test Grant. This is a tasty way to reinforce Common Core standards in your classroom.

Taste testing in the classroom will help third through eighth grade students throughout March 2014 144California gain exposure and new-found knowledge about specialty crops that will help them make improved decisions about what they eat. Last year, as part of this program, more than 13,500 students were able to try new fruits and vegetable while learning about California agriculture. In fact, teachers have said that many students asked their parents to buy some of the commodities they have tried in class at the grocery store.

Educators that received the Taste Test Grant in 2013 were asked, “How has this program been beneficial to your classroom instruction?” See their responses below.

“The California specialty crops program enabled students in my STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) enrichment class to do hands-on taste testing of crops they were researching. This took their learning to a new level and helped them to form connections in their research on phytochemicals with this firsthand experience.”


“The program helped to expose my students to the vitamins and minerals in fresh fruits and vegetables that keep us healthy. My students have also begun to read package labels and identify the benefits. They were able to taste several fresh and dried fruits that were new to them. Their discoveries of these new food items has helped them make better food choices especially when looking for snack foods to eat.”


“Where do I start? This program is wonderful! My students have gained more awareness about CA specialty crops and CA agriculture. They have expanded their taste for fresh foods through the tastings. They have also increased their literacy skills through using all the great resources you have made available. We all love it!!!!”

Consider incorporating this program into your classroom! Grant applications are due October 22, 2014. Applications can be completed online and are available at www.LearnAboutAg.org/tastetest.


Taking Agriculture to Gordon Lau Elementary

Melanie Fowle Profile Pic_editedThis week’s guest post is by Melanie Fowle, Past President of California CattleWomen, Inc., and President-Elect of American National CattleWomen, Inc., In her spare time, Melanie works on her family’s ranch in Siskiyou County. 

When Siskiyou County CattleWomen adopted Gordon Lau Elementary School, it was a dream come true. In a nut shell, the opportunity arose and we took it. Three years ago some of our members were assigned to the school as part of California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom’s 25thAnniversary Celebration. Barbara Cowley, Lynda Beverlin and I were three of the six presenters and it was an incredibly positive experience for us and for the students.

_MG_4318Through eight minute rotations, we were able to work with 650 students.  A few groups needed an interpreter, but language is not a barrier to the satisfaction experienced by a child when touching and seeing animals. My lasting memory is the little hands reaching out to stroke and gently pat the farm animals.

When I arrived home after the farm day, I thought, “This is our chance!” Previously Pat Brazil, Jeff and Erin Fowle, and I, all from Siskiyou, and Lady Bug Doherty from Glenn/Colusa, had presented and taken livestock to St. Paul’s and Grattan Elementary schools in San Francisco so we were familiar with what needed to occur to make San Francisco Farm Day an annual event. I contacted the principal, Dr. Dennis Chew, about our proposal and his response was, “I am most definitely interested in making San Francisco Farm Day an annual event.” At this point, we alternate years with classroom presentations and farm animals. If Dr. Chew were not so supportive, it would not work. He has rallied his staff and students as he believes this to be a valuable experience for all. I might add, he is the ultimate in hosts!

_MG_4415This is not just any elementary school. We are in downtown in San Francisco’s China Town where streets are made for small vehicles and navigating between street cars, buses, and automobiles can be a bit stressful. However, Dr. Chew always has part of the street marked off for us so we can park and unload. We take animals that can walk up about seven cement steps and will then go down those same steps.

Partnerships and scheduling are key to a successful farm day. Two years ago, fiveSiskiyou CattleWomen returned to the school with classroom presentations. I contacted Jackie Zediker from the Siskiyou County 4-H extension, about working with her High 4-H students to bring animals. She organized 16 members and adults to partner with us on the livestock portion of Farm Day. Students at Gordon J. Lau Elementary School were able to see chickens, rabbits, sheep, a dairy calf, pigs, a beef calf, and goats. Also, they were able to participate in a roping station, saddle station, and a bean bag throw that provided a creative way to learn more about agriculture.

A question that we always get is how do we execute the project when we live about 350 San Francisco Farm Day 2012 101miles from San Francisco?  We schedule the visit the same week that students will be visiting the Cow Palace in the middle of October. The Cow Palace kindly lets us house the animals on the grounds as long as we provide our own shavings and clean the pens after reloading. As an aside, Siskiyou CattleWomen work a station for the Cow Palace Farm Tours the day following. This gives us two days to share with urban children and adults.

Our dream does not stop here. Another goal is to have a portion of the students visit Siskiyou County ranches. With coordination it will become a reality!

Literacy for Life Grant: Experiments in Agri-Science

Tammy Burris, a teacher at Grace Davis High School in Stanislaus County, received a Literacy for Life Grant to fund her project, Experiments in Agri-Science.

Everett 1

To start our school year, Grace Davis FFA students were given tools to study plant growth and learn how their food is grown. The FFA students then worked with Morris Nursery and the Modesto Garden Club to bring a farm unit to three preschool classes at Everett Elementary School. The preschool students were able to plant vegetable seedlings to take and plant at home. Both the FFA students and the preschool students were able to eat the rewards of their labor! This is an ongoing partnership and next year, Grace Davis Agriculture students will visit Everett Elementary School at least once a month to plant and introduce the preschool students to agriculture.


The next part of our project was in partnership with the Grace Davis Band. The Integrated Agricultural Science and Veterinary Science students compared different types of vegetables and flower seeds and then grew the plants from seeds in the greenhouse. After the vegetables and flowers grew, the plants were donated to the Grace Davis Band to sell at the community rummage sale. The proceeds from this sale helped band students attend Band Camp while developing a relationship between the band program and the agricultural department.


Our next phase of the project involved the agricultural students learning about plant science and how seeds germinate. In class, the agricultural students started 120 plants. Once the seedlings started to develop, the students donated the plants to Fremont Elementary School to augment their raised garden bed project. The agricultural students helped transplant the seedlings and the elementary students observed the growth process of the seedlings through maturity. This partnership with Fremont Elementary School enabled the elementary school to implement an agriculture unit in their curriculum.


The last phase of our Literacy for Life Project involved helping Martone Elementary School prepare an area of 200 square feet for raised garden beds over the summer and will carry into the next school year. Grace Davis High School Agriculture students will teach elementary school students in all grade levels about agriculture next fall. The agricultural students will start seeds in the greenhouse at the agricultural department and then transplant them at the elementary school. The agriculture students will work with the elementary students once a month, teaching them about agriculture. The elementary school students will also be planting flowers that the high school students preformed a photosynthesis lab on in collaboration with the elementary school science teachers.

Our Literacy for Life project has deepened our students’ understanding of agriculture while introducing hundreds of younger students to how the food they eat everyday is grown. These projects also helped our students develop a service-learning attitude which is an important part of the FFA program.

To learn more about CFAITC’s 25 Literacy for Life Grant projects awarded in 2013, visit www.LearnAboutAg.org/literacyforlife.

Teacher Feature – Anne Gaffney

AnneGaffneyWe asked Anne Gaffney, nutrition specialist at the Elk Grove Unified School District in Sacramento County, about her experiences with agriculture education.

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I am always looking for nutrition education resources to share with teachers in the Elk Grove Unified School District. Many years ago at a California School Nutrition Association conference, I visited the Agriculture in the Classroom booth and was amazed at all of the resources.

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
While I am not a certificated teacher, I have been a school nutrition educator for almost 21 years. My background is in dietetics and I became a registered dietitian in 1987. My first two jobs as a dietitian involved working with adults who had developed health problems related to diet and lifestyle. By moving to the school environment, my goal is to help children develop healthy eating habits at a young age so they won’t develop diseases that could have been prevented with healthy food choices.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
My favorite AITC resource is the Agricultural Fact and Activity Sheets. There is so much information in one convenient location. I have shared these with teachers at nutrition education workshops, used them for activities at health fairs, and gleaned information to supplement our Harvest of the Month produce tasting program.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
Recently, we have been doing farmers market assemblies at elementary schools. At the assemblies, students participate in a short nutrition lesson about the produce that is in season and then they “shop” by selecting one of everything to take home and try with their families. Yesterday, as part of the assembly I asked, “Boys and girls, why do you think we brought all these fresh fruits and vegetables to your school?” One boy quickly raised his hand and said, “Because you care about our health.”

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
This school year we have formed a partnership with a local farm. Sixth grade classes are going on a field trip to the farm. For most students, this is their first time on a working farm. While on the farm, students help harvest crops for the local food bank and they are able to bring home some produce to enjoy.

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today’s society?
Many students of this fast-food generation have lost touch with where food comes from. As they learn about how plants grow, it is easier to understand and have an appreciation for the nutritional value of food. As a dietitian, I believe that all foods can have a place in our diet, but the healthiest diets contain few processed foods. We can’t teach healthy eating habits without understanding the importance of natural foods.



Literacy for Life Grant: Food Fanatics

Christine Zukowski, a teacher at Giano Intermediate School in Los Angeles County, received a Literacy for Life Grant to fund her project, Food Fanatics.

The goal for Food Fanatics was to help students understand the importance of fresh food and the source of that food. The Food Fanatics program began in October and we scheduled three different nine-week after-school sessions. More than 40 students participated in the Food Fanatics program.

Each Wednesday, students received two recipes and they were able to choose which recipe they wanted to prepare that week. As we prepared the dish, we discussed the nutritional content of the recipe. At the end of each nine-week session, students received a copy of a recipe book that contained everything we had prepared during that session.

On May 20, students from three of the Food Fanatics sessions visited the Cal Poly, Pomona campus to tour the John T. Lyle Regenerative Center and the Farm Store. Students were able to see the farm to table process and reinforce the importance of good, fresh food in their diets.

Students were surprised to discover that they liked many foods that they had not tried before! Tuna, Persian cucumbers, and bell peppers were a few of the new foods for several of the students. Because of the Food Fanatics program, we have heard from parents that their students are taking a bigger interest cooking in the kitchen and now they even prepare meals together!

To learn more about CFAITC’s 25 Literacy for Life Grant projects awarded in 2013, visit www.LearnAboutAg.org/literacyforlife.