The last week in April would have been the annual Ag in the Classroom (AITC) tour at Hadden Farms for approximately 475 fourth-graders from Cass and Morgan Counties. For the first time in over 25 years, that did not happen. In the past, we have had rainy days and could bring the animals to students in the shop, under cover from the weather. There was nothing we could do to prepare for a pandemic. How do we adjust? How do we reach those fourth-graders who did not get a school trip to see the farm?
We spent the year preparing for the tour. Lessons consisted of farm safety, pumpkins, pigs, field corn, Illinois farm history, beef cattle, chickens and sheep. In March, we would have played a fun game reviewing everything we have discussed this year and discussing some farm safety again in preparation for the trip. Not only are the students disappointed this couldn’t happen, but so are the volunteers and farmers that spend their days talking to the students. When you are handed lemons you make lemonade, right?
Now, I bring the farm to the students by sharing videos. They are posted on the AITC Cass-Morgan Farm Bureau Facebook page and the fourth-grade teachers have been receiving links that they can share with their students. To date, the students have received videos on bottle-feeding a calf, tagging a calf, pigs, fuzzy chicks, hauling grain and a lesson on sheep. As Mr. Hymes, the fourth-grade grade teacher at Virginia Elementary stated, “It just isn’t the same as a real visit.” And while he is right, this is the best we can do for those students and teachers who counted on us for a full day of fun and education.
Some of the area schools are not completely online and are distributing packets to their students. This has given me another opportunity to teach agriculture. In April, I distributed Earth Day Ag Mags and beads to construct a bracelet, along with offering tree saplings to teachers to plant at their schools. Other items this spring included Water Ag Mags with a bead lesson and Soil and Pizza Ag Mags with links to accompanying lessons. Mrs. Massie’s first & second-grade class from Trinity Lutheran received a link to listen to “Tops and Bottoms” by Janet Stevens. They also received paper plates and instructions to make a garden showing plants where you eat the “tops” and plants where you eat the “bottoms”.
Our Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom staff has created a wonderful site at beyondthebarndoor.wordpress.com. There are so many amazing lessons on there. Check it out and find “Everyday Agriculture” with lessons on composting, technology, beef and pork – just to name a few. “Eggs in the Classroom” follows staff member Chris, and his son as they incubate eggs and include poultry lessons. “Grow with Us” gives ideas and positive reinforcement on growing your own plants. You CAN have a green thumb! I hope you will check out this site as well as the AITC Cass-Morgan Farm Bureau Facebook page. We always welcome the opportunity to tell the “Ag Story”.