Recommended Reading

We’re on GoodReads!

All of the books that are reviewed and recommended for their agriculture content and potential use in the classroom are listed with our account. Join us to learn about books as they are approved.

All of the Imagine this… Stories Inspired by Agriculture books are also included, and available to download or to read directly through the site.

We’ve been hearing about how classroom teachers are using GoodReads to meet Common Core Content Standards by encouraging written reflection and peer feedback. Are you using it in your classroom?

Literacy for Life Grant Update: Franklin High School Garden

Ann Hennessey, a teacher at Franklin High School in Sacramento County, received a Literacy for Life Grant to fund her project, Franklin High School Garden.

Below is an update on Ann’s project.

garden 1Our goal with this grant is to restore our former school garden and use it as an outdoor classroom for special education students in the independent living skills program. We are renovating the existing site to accommodate students with special needs and their equipment, such as wheelchairs. This garden will bring our general education students together with some of our school’s most severely disabled students in a unique collaboration.

garden7First, we created a steering committee for the school garden renovation that is comprised of many of the school’s departments and a community representative. Two of our teachers attended a UC Master Gardener workshop about worm composting. We have completed the paperwork and received permission to have a school-wide farmers market in May that will include not only the garden project students, but also other student organizations. We have hosted student work days where students cleared weeds, repaired broken tables, replaced the plastic on the greenhouse frame, and stained wooden planters.

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The California drought affected our project when our local water districts and cities called for a 20 percent cut in water usage from everyone. We knew that we had to adjust our project. With input from our partners we made a decision to focus on native California plants and to revise our planting methods. We will plant some vegetables in our raised beds and water them by hand once the danger of frost has passed, then sell them at the farmers market so we don’t have to worry about watering through the summer. Likewise, we plan to sell all of our native California plants.

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The students who have come out to work on the garden have gained a huge sense of accomplishment. Students learned to use a landscaper’s rake to level the ground and a student in a wheelchair came out twice to conduct accessibility studies for us. His studies led to an entire change of garden plans from the original drawn up by our drafting teacher. In addition, one of our science teachers involved in the garden project has started an ecology class for the next school year which will meet UC and CSU admission requirements.

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This garden will benefit all of the students and staff at our school. From the ones who participate in the renovation to the ones that will use the garden as an outdoor learning environment.

Ann was selected as CFAITC’s 2013 Outstanding Educator. To learn more about the 25 Literacy for Life Grant projects, visit www.LearnAboutAg.org/literacyforlife.

Teacher Feature – Clarence Atwater

We asked Clarence Atwater, sixth and seventh grade science teacher at San Gabriel Christian School in Los Angeles County, about hisClarenceAtwater_180x180 experiences with agriculture education.

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
In 2001, I attended my first AITC Conference in Half Moon Bay. That conference lead to a very lasting and fulfilling relationship between me and the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. It was packed with workshop sessions, field trips, great food and tons of ideas to take back to the classroom—one of the best being the Imagine this… Story Writing Contest!

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
In 1979, while I was finishing up my four-year degree at LIFE Bible College, I was asked to teach a fourth grade class for their second semester. I accepted the position even though I thought my life was going in a different direction; my wife and I worked for many years as clowns for parties, promotions, churches and children’s camps between Southern California and British Columbia. To my surprise, I was asked to fill in at two other schools and found myself enjoying teaching to the point that I am still teaching today.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
Anyone who has attended one of AITC’s conferences will tell you to sign up and get ready for a fantastic time. You rub elbows with ag professionals, gifted teachers, starting teachers, farmers, and ranchers—all providing an abundance of teaching ideas, crafts and handouts with which to enrich your students. You will love the shop talk, networking, and experience of outstanding field trips.

What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you?
Because of AITC, I have been exposed to the plight facing agriculture families today. Everyone needs water, space, a market for what has been produced, and someone to continue when it is time to retire.

Water during our drought is especially challenging. What if there is not enough to go around? City needs, rural needs, polluted wells, and pollution off the shore contaminated sea life! Who decides who gets how much from where and when? Are all the laws for the best? Are we protected for future needs and health? The Foundation provides a space for teachers to hear from a variety of specialists with a variety of views.

When you go in a field and listen to a farmer who is losing his farm because a developer bought out a neighboring farm a few years earlier, you begin to question, “Shouldn’t farmland be better preserved?” At the same time, doesn’t a farmer have the right to sell the family farmland to be developed if there aren’t others desiring/able to carry on the family tradition? In the Los Angeles area, so much fertile farmland is now lost. While there are still patches here and there producing fresh fruits and vegetables, should more be done to keep a balance when it comes to the use of rich agricultural areas?

On another ag field trip, I remember hearing a farmer explain how there are times he has to plow a whole crop under just before harvest time. Prices fell because the same produce came in from another country at a lower price. These are some of the issues you learn about from AITC.

Has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
Agriculture definitely has a place in the education of my students. I continue every year to ask my students and other teachers to take part in the Imagine this… Story Writing Contest. We talk each year about the importance of water conservation, drought resistant plants, and the impact runoff can have on the environment. The What’s Growin’ On? student newspaper is a fun way to expand my students’ agriculture knowledge.

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
Mr. Brummer was one of my high school teachers who was able to spark an idea in his students and gave them a chance to run with it. As teachers, we like to have control, and it can be scary to open the gate and see where a path might take our students. It takes time, energy, patience and acceptance. Sometimes it leaves us feeling like failures especially if our students do not find anticipated success. There were three of us in Mr. Brummer’s class who banded together and found we could make a difference by putting together assemblies for the whole school discussing social issues of the day.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
Students love seeing life. We have been able to observe baby snakes hatch and watched pinky hamsters develop fur and grow into adults who have more babies. I love to hear my students’ excitement over animals and hear how excited they are when their plants start sprouting. This last week in the computer lab, my students were entering their data for their plants. Once all the steps had been taken, they pushed enter—an amazing “WOW” was heard throughout the class as graphs magically appeared and students visualized their own projects.

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
My seventh graders are growing plants for science fair. They are testing the affects of fertilizers, lighting and watering methods. Some are finding that it is not as easy as it looks while others seem to have a green thumb. Growing plants gives students a perspective on life. Much of life doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time! I see this as a small scale of what takes place in 4-H programs.

Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
Networking with others who are excited about agriculture provides support and ideas. I have gained a wealth of advice and teaching materials from organizations and their members. F.I.T. (Forestry Institute for Teachers) takes you into the woods and gives insight into today’s sustainable forest. E.A.T. (Education and Agriculture Together) allow for you to meet dairymen, farmers, drive a tractor and go home with all kinds of teaching aids. Look to the Farm Bureau in your area for workshops. I have attended the teacher’s conference in Bakersfield several times; it’s a winner! Mary Landau talked me into joining CWA (California Women for Agriculture), where I was able to go on a fantastic water tour of Southern California. 48th District Agricultural Association provides teachers with many resources, and their students have a chance to create agriculture-related projects to display at our local Ag Fair. Smart Gardening has impacted my classes through vermicomposting. Tap into environmental groups like Generation Earth/Tree People for their perspective.

The above list did not come together overnight. I have taken one step at a time.

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today’s society?
Without agriculture we would not survive. I do not want my students thinking an apple comes from a market. Most of my city kids have never picked fruit from a tree. So much of what happens in California depends on agriculture. I want my students to make this connection. Who knows, in the not-too-far-off future, some of my students may be the ones deciding who gets water from where, and how this or that section of land will be used.

Literacy for Life Grant Update: Motivating Reading Through Agriculture

Amy Osterberg, a teacher at Cedarwood Elementary School in Fresno County, received a Literacy for Life Grant to fund her project, Motivating Reading Through Agriculture.

Below is an update on Amy’s project.

The goal of this project is to have agriculture books available and accessible in the library for students to read and learn the importance about agriculture and the role it plays in their daily lives. The Literacy for Life Grant that we received has allowed us to stock our school library with a variety if books at different reading levels that introduce the students to agriculture.

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First we compiled a list of books that were already in the library to determine what books and subjects needed to be added. To enhance the creativity of agriculture at our school, we are celebrating and highlighting certain commodities each month in our library with the use of books, facts, and photographs.

One of the books that we purchased was Hold the Anchovies! by Shelley Rotner and Julia Pemberton Hellums. This book is based on the ingredients that go into making pizza. We planted a pizza garden to match the theme of the book while highlighting many of the crops that are grown right here in the Central Valley.

The students are becoming more aware of what agriculture is and the many ways that agriculture plays a role in their daily lives. They are checking out and looking at books that they would not have done before.

To learn more about the 25 Literacy for Life Grant projects, visit www.LearnAboutAg.org/literacyforlife.

Literacy for Life Grant Update: Composting and the Food Cycle

Jessie Rubner, a teacher at William Collier Elementary School in Riverside County, received a Literacy for Life Grant to fund her project, Composting and the Food Cycle.

Below is an update on Jessie’s project.

I had the pleasure of attending the California Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Del Mar this summer and brought to my school the idea of a school garden. To my surprise, many teachers were eager to jump in and get started. We are using this grant to start the garden process, but more specifically, to start composting. Composting is such a unique part of gardening and the breaking down of organisms is educational for the students. Fourth graders focus on this process all year in science.

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With our Literacy for Life Grant, we purchased a double composter for our lunch area. The composter helps the students understand the value of our food in recycling back to the earth, or in our case, our school garden which will give us fresh fruits and vegetables.

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We have “Composter Guards” during each lunch period to help ensure only the right food material is going into the composter. This is beneficial for both the “Composter Guards” and their classmates as they learn from one another. The students perception of agriculture is changing with this project, they are able to see the process. It is not something that they are reading about, but they are able to contribute to its success.

To learn more about the 25 Literacy for Life Grant projects, visitwww.LearnAboutAg.org/literacyforlife.

A Day in the Life of a Story Writing Contest Winner

Arrive at the California Farm Bureau Federation building in Sacramento.

Arrive at the California Farm Bureau Federation building in Sacramento with family and teacher. (Photo courtesy of CFBF)

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See the new edition of Imagine this… Stories Inspired by Agriculture and illustrated story for the first time. Autograph 100 copies of the book while waiting for interview.

Read story and be interviewed with teacher on camera.

Smile for photos. Be interviewed on video, along with teacher, sharing inspiration and feelings about being a state winner. Read story for audio book version.

Receive a box lunch and travel to the state capitol.

Head to the state capitol to participate in California Agriculture Day.

Greet visitors to the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom booth at California Agriculture Day. Autograph bookmarks and more books.

Be featured at the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom booth at California Agriculture Day. Autograph bookmarks and even more books. Smile for photos.

Be recognized on stage at the west steps of the capitol.

Be recognized on stage at the west steps of the capitol during the California Ag Day program. Smile for photo.

Have group photo taken on the floor of the assembly. (Photo courtesy of CFBF)

Receive a private tour and official welcome on the assembly floor. Smile for group photo. (Photo courtesy of CFBF)

Gather in the Governor's Council room. Receive recognition from and have photos taken with legislators from their districts.

Meet legislators from their district and receive recognition. Smile for photo.

Meet illustrators of the stories.

Meet high school student illustrators of the stories. Smile for photo.

Have high school student illustrators autograph their book.

Have high school student illustrators autograph their book.

Read story during the ceremony.

Be recognized individually during the ceremony and read story for the audience.

Receive medal, hard copy of the book, illustration suitable for framing, and e-reader with all stories.

Receive medal, hard copy of the book, artwork suitable for framing, and e-reader with all stories.

Have photo taken with medal and CDFA Secretary Karen Ross.

Meet more dignitaries, including CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. Smile for photo with medals and books.

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Eat cake.

Travel home and start imagining next year's story.

Travel home and start imagining next year’s story.

 

Book Review: Oh Say Can You Seed?

Oh Say Can You SeedIntroduce your students to flowering plants and seeds with this book, Oh Say Can You Seed? by Bonnie Worth.

The Cat in the Hat examines the various parts of seeds and plants, photosynthesis, pollination, and seed dispersal in this fun, easy-to-read story for young students.

With the Cat in the Hat as their guide, students are encouraged to think about the different ways we use plants, from “the paper for books and the cloth for your pants.” He helps elementary students understand that plants are used for food, clothing, and medicines, and fill so many of our daily needs.

With the assistance of Thing 1 and Thing 2, Cat in the Hat defines what a seed is for students and illustrates the anatomy of seeds. Through this story, students will learn the different parts and associated functions of seeds.

The Cat in the Hat doesn’t stop there! He illustrates the growing timeline of seeds and identifies the parts of the plant once the seed has sprouted. Through diagrams and creative rhymes, readers will learn the functions of each part of the plant: roots, stems, leaves, fruit and flowers.

In this creative story, Worth also shares what plants need to grow and how plants are the only living things on Earth that make their own food — through photosynthesis! The illustrations clearly convey the process and the important role that it plays.

To extend this book in your classroom, have your students plant Desktop Gardens. They create a tiny garden and see firsthand just how seeds grow!

Literacy for Life Grant Update: Critter Convention

Robin Satnick, a teacher at Crane Country Day School in Santa Barbara County, received a Literacy for Life Grant to fund her project, Critter Convention.

Below is an update on Robin’s project.

The goal of our project is to create a living laboratory of garden critters. We have created habitats for earthworms, ladybugs, snails, praying mantises, ants, and butterflies so far. Students are exploring the important roles these critters play in the garden. They are able to compare and contrast body parts, life cycles, and niches. Using hand lenses, students are able to see how the critters adapt and perform certain jobs.

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The students were given Critter Convention journals with information about the various critters with plenty of room for the students to draw and record their findings and observations.

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Students hone their life science skills and learn how biologists group living creatures into phylum classification based on the physical characteristics that living creatures display. The biggest challenge for our class so far is working with live animals and making sure that they are cared for correctly.

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The students are learning firsthand how these critters play an vital role in our gardens. We have an on-site garden where students plant, tend the soil, and harvest the crops. They have seen the critters in the garden, but until now the critters haven’t been a part of their curriculum. The students are learning how interconnected the living and non-living things on our Earth are.

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To learn more about the 25 Literacy for Life Grant projects, visit www.LearnAboutAg.org/literacyforlife.

Teacher Feature – Cindy Friday

We asked Cindy Friday, fourth grade teacher at Starr Elementary in Fresno County, about her experiences with agriculture education.CindyFriday180x180

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I was looking online for a teaching job in Fresno. I was curious how many Fresno schools had gardens and found only a few. But, through this research, I also found Ag in the Classroom.

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
I’m in my sixth year of teaching and my third year at Starr. I came into teaching after 20 years in newspaper editing and reporting. I did a brief stint in public relations, but still wasn’t satisfied with my work life. I read Po Bronson’s book “What Should I Do With My Life?” and that helped me realize what I really wanted was to have more personal relationships in my work. I also saw that I really like kids. Teaching was my answer!

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
Right now, I’m loving the Specialty Crop Taste Test Grant! We’ve tasted pineapple guava and pistachios. Students practiced “close reading”—a new Common Core strategy—with the pistachio fact and activity sheet. I showed a video clip on the stages of ripening and how they are harvested. Many students had eaten them salted, from a split shell. So I wanted them to taste them shelled and unsalted. They also ate them in a pesto. My husband came to class, donned an apron and showed how to whip together the nuts, basil and olive oil in the food processor. We spread it on slices of a baguette. Some liked it one way and not the other, but most liked both. Next up for us will be kiwifruit from Exeter and dates from the Coachella Valley. I want to try kale too, both fresh and then dried as chips by my gardening elective students.

What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you?
It’s made me think of where the foods I want to buy are from, and how much labor and gas it took to bring them to me. It’s made me a more discriminating shopper and more of a locavore.

Has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
Knowing in general what it takes to grow real food helps me answer questions that come up in class. Agriculture awareness has affected how I acknowledge holidays. Under the old state standards, there was so little time for teaching anything extra that I usually did nothing with holidays. Now I try to mark holidays at school through a taste test or food activity, while covering the new Common Core standards. This past Halloween, I used an Ag in the Classroom lesson and handout from the specialty crop resource packet in both my gardening-elective and fourth-grade class. We learned names for the parts of a pumpkin and how some varieties are grown for their seeds, some for their pulp and some for carving. We scooped out the guts and saved them for the elective class. The next day, my fourth-through-sixth graders prepped the seeds for toasting in our teacher’s lounge oven. A parent and an aide helped us out. The students saw firsthand how different the Cinderella pumpkin’s shell and seeds were from the carving pumpkins. I learned how tough it is to cut open a Cinderella! And the seeds were sort of chewy but tasty.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
In my elective, we were clearing weeds from our school’s 8-by-20 garden plot for the very first time. I didn’t know if the kids would think this was fun or a bore. McKayla, a fifth-grader, waved her big weed in the air, “Look, Mrs. Friday, it’s a huge taproot! We just learned about these in science, and I found one!” I’d never seen anyone so happy to yank a weed from the ground.

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
We are changing our planting area to become a bee-friendly garden. We grew sunflowers the previous year, Lemon Queens, to participate in a bee count with San Francisco State’s program. But rats started dining on the seeds, and I was told we couldn’t plant food there anymore. So we are slowly changing that area to perennials and reseeding annuals—butterfly bush, salvias, iris, alyssum—and transplanted mums that were gifts. We will see what happens. Meanwhile, we have a place to look at and learn more about bees. Last year, we learned that bees are trucked in from other states if there aren’t enough here for the big orchards when they’re in bloom.

Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
My advice would be to face your limits of time and look for ways to weave ag-ed in with what you must teach anyway. For example, under the new Common Core standards for fourth grade, students must learn how to use more than one adjective to describe a noun, and in the right order. So it’s five orange pumpkins, not orange five pumpkins. I taught that standard first using other material. When we taste kiwifruit, we will revisit that standard and also prepositional phrases, which they just learned. Secondly, I would suggest teachers ask for Ag Activity volunteers at Back to School Night. Some parents will say yes because they can help only once or twice and make a difference. I couldn’t have done mine the way I did without some adult help.

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today’s society?  
I think agricultural literacy is important for several reasons, but mostly I think about politics. I was a government-journalism major in college in the 1980s. We have been arguing in this state over water, soil and resource management for decades. None of it is going away any time soon. I figure if kids taste fresh food, experience gardening, and get an appreciation for what it takes to grow food that is shipped around the world, then maybe when they’re old enough to vote, they will make more informed decisions about issues that affect our food supply.