We asked Elmer Eckart, retired upper elementary educator and administrator from San Francisco, about his experiences with agriculture education.
How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I became involved in agriculture education more than 30 years ago when the California Farm Bureau was asked by the San Francisco School District to help with elementary school curriculum about farming in California. This was followed by the original San Francisco Farm Day and that’s when I became involved with Agriculture in the Classroom.
How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
I have been associated with San Francisco public schools for more than 45 years and love teaching elementary-aged students. Early on, I was involved with outdoor education in California and conducted weeklong school science camps for our fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students for 15 years in the redwoods. I then became interested in agriculture education and made that my focus for several years and became a part of founding the Project Food, Land and People organization in 1988. I retired 14 years ago, but I substituted at my same school until last fall.
What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
I think that the California Agriculture in the Classroom Conference is one of the best programs available as they offer great ideas, fantastic materials, and a chance to network with others. When AITC offered the Summer Ag Institute, it was a wonderful weeklong program and several county Farm Bureaus still offer summer programs that are very good. Ag in the Classroom’s educational materials are excellent.
What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you and how does that impact the way you educate students?
Being a kid raised in the city, my parents often took our family to nature spots throughout Northern California. We always took a trip to a Sonoma farm before Thanksgiving to pick out our turkey. The farmer took us into the field and explained the process.
Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
A scout leader once told me that I was a natural-born teacher and convinced me to become an elementary teacher. There were many people along the way in education and agriculture that helped me further my career and I have been fortunate to have opportunities such as teaching in Japan, running a state-recognized outdoor education program for 15 years, serving on the teachers panel for Scholastic News, serving on the National Steering Committee of Project Food, Land and People since it was founded in 1988, and meeting many, many people through Agriculture in the Classroom.
Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
For a couple of years, I took my San Francisco students to Fresno and Madera counties for a school week where they lived with farm families and visited surrounding farm venues. A couple of years later, a former student came running into my classroom very upset. He had an article from the San Francisco Chronicle that talked about many farmers in the Central Valley losing their farmland because of mortgage problems. He said, “This can’t happen” and told me one of the grape farmers that lost his land was his host family a few years before. This really made an impact. I was able to use this as a real-life lesson for the class.
Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
I still work with Project Food, Land and People. I also enjoyed working with and coordinating the Farm Day last October at one of the largest elementary schools in San Francisco. We had fantastic support from farmers, volunteers, and students from UC Davis.
Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
Jump right in with a few hands-on activities, particularly things that relate to the school such as food and the students’ lunches. There are many resources available; take advantage of them. Agriculture in the Classroom activities can put the fun back into the classroom.
Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today’s society?
We live our fast-paced lives not understanding our natural resources and food supplies. We must understand where our food and fiber comes from as today’s students are tomorrow’s voters.