Teachers learn about ag during Ag in the Classroom tour

Gloria Hafemeister
Teachers participating in the Ag in the Classroom tour of McKay Nursery in Waterloo learned from botanist Mike Goecks about how plants are propagated.  They also learned how many years it takes to develop a variety of plant or trees before it hits the market.

JEFFERSON COUNTY – Why do some cows have short tails and others’ are long?  Do you raise GMO crops?  How much does that big machine cost?  Why do trees cost so much?

Teachers and others got answers to these questions when they took part in the Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom two-day agricultural tour last week.

Besides this annual tour, located in different parts of the state each year, Ag in the Classroom provides teachers with curriculum, resources and ideas but it also provides training through workshops throughout the state.

Last week a record 48 people took advantage of the opportunity to learn about Jefferson County agriculture.  Earlier in the month another group of teachers attended the summer training session at the West Madison Research Station.

During the bus tour, Darlene Arneson, director of the Ag in the Classroom program and LaVern Georgson, Jefferson County UW-Extension Agricultural Agent, pointed out unique agricultural businesses including a mint farm, egg production farm, chick growing facility, and harvesting of various crops.

Georgson also talked about the role of UW-Extension’s role in agriculture and about the resources the local Extension office can provide for teachers.

The Ag in the Classroom program provides teachers and K-12 students with an understanding of how their food is grown and raised.  The program seeks to work within the existing curricula to provide basic information on agriculture.

Arneson reminds the teachers that agriculture is this country’s largest industry and it is very diverse and includes opportunities for many careers outside of the actual on-farm production.

The bus tour and summer training programs are made possible through the Jeanette Poulson Fund of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Foundation which offers financial support to offset the cost of training.

Besides teachers, the tour also included Master Gardeners, farmers involved with agriculture tourism, agricultural ambassadors and dairy promotion committee members from around the state who were interested in getting ideas for sharing the story of agriculture in their communities.

Amber McComish comes from a 230-cow, 2,000 acre farm near Darlington. She took part in the tour to learn about all the other aspects of agriculture. 

She says, “I want to be able to do a better job promoting our business and telling our story and Ag in the Classroom is very helpful with that.”

John and Julie Govin have an agri-tourism farm at Menomonee offering the opportunity to see lambing in spring followed by pick-your-own strawberries in early summer, corn maize and pumpkins in fall.  Their barn is also available as a “wedding barn.”

Twelve of the participants earned credits as a part of Concordia University’s graduate class on Ag Literacy.  Those teachers also took part in a classroom session in the evening to learn more details about the agriculture industry.

Potential careers

Participants observed that many of the presenters at the agricultural enterprises did not have a farm background.

Arneson said there are many opportunities in all aspects of agriculture. She said tours such as this highlight the many different careers that young people interested in agriculture can pursue beyond production agriculture. While education and training is important, often employers train on the job. Many jobs require technical school training.

The advantage of growing up on the farm, Arneson points out, is the opportunity to develop a work ethic.

“That ability to see what needs to be done and to do ahead and do it is a big deal in any job. Those are things that young people learn growing up on a farm,” she notes.

Participants were amazed at the cost of the equipment, the technology in place on today’s farms, and the wide variety of products that come from farms. Some were surprised to learn that, despite what they may have heard or read online, there are no antibiotics in meat or milk.

They also had a lot of questions about GMO’s and were some were surprised to learn that because of genetically modified crops farmers are able to use fewer chemicals for weeds and insects.

A visit to Hoard’s Historical Museum and Dairy Shrine helped the teachers understand how the dairy industry has evolved over the years. 

Becky Graumann a fourth grade teacher at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Fort Atkinson described how her school works with Hoards Museum.

She said, “We’re blessed to have this museum. Our community is so rich in agricultural and native American history.”

Hoard Museum sponsors a history essay contest by offering tours of the museum, working with students to teach them how to conduct interviews, and then asking them to interview their own older family members or neighbors.  Hoards hosts an awards program for the students with winning essays.

Arneson encouraged teachers to contact their own local museums to see if a similar type program could be made available to students.

She also suggested that lower grade teachers work with high school agriculture teachers and FFA groups in their district to take advantage of the FFA Food for America program.