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.

Conference Update: Friday Night Keynote Speaker


As conference approaches we are excited to introduce our Friday night conference keynote speaker! A Santa Cruz local, Renee Shepherd is a seed developer, gardener, entrepreneur, and author, who will be speaking about two of her passions—gardening and cooking!

Renee will provide an overview of where home garden seeds come from, how they are produced and distributed, and how new varieties are chosen and developed. She will share her favorite picks for in the kitchen and in the garden. Renee will discuss what is best for home and school gardeners, covering topics that include heirlooms, hybrids, seed saving, GMOs, and organic gardening. She will address the many aspects of gardening and the lifelong lessons that can be learned in the garden. Renee uses critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration everyday while running her company and while in her garden.

Renee Shepherd is widely regarded as a pioneering innovator for introducing international specialty vegetables and herbs for home gardeners and gourmet restaurants.  She holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz where she taught in the Environmental Studies department before founding Renee’s Garden in 1998.

Renee’s Garden seeds are sold nationally at independent garden centers, and online at reneesgarden.com. The company offers fellow gardeners access to the high quality seed varieties otherwise available only to mail order shoppers.  When Renee isn’t writing copy for seed packets or directing the company’s large trial garden, she can be found authoring cookbooks, speaking at national garden shows, or enjoying the Santa Cruz Mountains.

“Renee’s Garden is my practical way to spread the joy of gardening as a meaningful, productive and satisfying activity that connects us to each other and the earth.” – Renee Shepherd

We are really looking forward to welcoming Renee to our conference and listening to her speak about how gardening, cooking, and education can help students understand more about agriculture!

Renee is one of our four keynote speakers for the 2014 California Agriculture in the Classroom Conference. To see the other speakers, and to register for the conference, visit our website at http://learnaboutag.org/conference.

Book Review: Patient for Pumpkins


Introduce your students to how pumpkins are grown and the seasonality of other fruits and vegetables that you will find throughout the year at the farmers’ market in this book written and illustrated by Linda L. Knoll.

Young readers will follow T.J. and his dad on monthly trips to the farmers’ market. On each trip, T.J. shares which commodities are in season. Each month, T.J. asks, “But where are the pumpkins,” and T.J.’s dad replies “Be patient.” The beautiful illustrations throughout the story will help students identify different fruits and vegetables and when during the year they are available.

A side bar on each page explains the different stages of the growing process of pumpkins—from when the farmers prepare the fields in the spring to when the pumpkins are harvested and available at the farmers’ market in the fall.

Throughout the book, readers will also learn about the different parts of a pumpkin plant, like roots, tendrils, flowers, and leaves, and the different functions of each plant part. For example, the large leaves help protect the pumpkins from the hot sun.

This book also introduces the reader to the wide variety of pumpkins that are available from short ones, to green ones, and even ones with bumps on them. T.J. selects his pumpkin and takes it home to carve!

Linda Knoll includes a list of fruits and vegetables that you can find at the farmers’ market on the last page of the book. She encourages readers to check the commodities that they have tried and encourages them to try new ones!

To extend this activity in your classroom, download What’s Growin’ On? – CA Crop Talk – Specialty Crop Edition. There is a page featuring pumpkins.


Literacy for Life Grant: Traveling Wheelbarrow Garden

Carrie Strohl, a teacher at Bel Aire Park Elementary School in Napa County, received a Literacy for Life Grant to fund her project, Traveling Wheelbarrow Garden.

IMG_0470This project provided multiple grade levels with a traveling wheel barrow garden that traveled from classroom to classroom for all students to experience. Students learned the different cycles of food production, about farm and garden tools, and how use of containers are an alternate means for growing food.


The first grade students planted peas after tasting fresh pea pods. They learned the lesson of the Three Sisters and how three types of crops (corn, beans, and squash) can grow symbiotically. Students understood the cultural, scientific, and practical connection between the inter-planting of food that tastes good and provides energy, protein, and vitamins.

Second grade students participated in the lesson, Room to Grow, from CFAITC’s lesson unit, What Do Plants Need to Grow?. The students compared different types of seeds, measured them, and then planted them in six-pack containers to test whether seed size is an indicator of how big the plant will grow.

Fourth grade students studied energy. The central idea of their lesson was how different forms of energy affect the Earth. The students were able to evaluate energy inputs like soil and fertilizer versus energy outputs like nutritional content.

The students were astonished to discover how much food such a small space could produce!

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