Archive for July, 2014

16 binders_SAI 2014Sixteen densely packed binders in my office symbolize the years of Summer Ag Institutes (SAIs) we’ve conducted in DeKalb County. Each contains the intricate details of 40 hours of speakers, tours, and activities that make up this annual graduate course for teachers.

Planning an SAI means trying to accomplish several objectives at once. These include providing an overview of local agriculture; varying tours and speakers each year so teachers can repeat the course yet always learn something new; planning diverse class experiences tying to a central theme; and fitting in as many learning opportunities as possible without overwhelming or overtiring participants. All of these goals must be achieved while simultaneously meeting the needs of teachers from kindergarten through high school.

Some course components fall into place after a call or e-mail while others take days of planning. Either way, I seem to spend a lot of time agonizing over speaker, tour, and travel times while scribbling, erasing, and re-writing schedules.

This year there were 13 participants in our SAI. Is it worth doing all that work for just 13 teachers? SAI 2014 wind farmI believe it is. Here’s why.

It’s relevant. When you explore modern agriculture, connections to everyday life become obvious quickly. What does the language on a milk jug mean? If some packages of chicken say “raised without hormones,” does it mean some chickens are given hormones? Is there a difference between the corn we feed livestock and the corn in our freezer?

It’s interesting. Did you know that the harsh winter of 2013-2014 killed much of the winter wheat in the county? SAI teachers discovered that some local farmers grow wheat as a source of roughage for cattle and to provide field area for mid-summer application of manure. Do you know the different ways crops are genetically modified? SAI teachers compared traditional breeding, mutagenesis, RNA interference, and transgenics during a lively discussion of GMOs. C’mon, this stuff is fascinating!

It’s transformative. At the end of each class meeting, I distribute “guided” journal instructions for teachers to share their reactions and reflect on how they might incorporate what they learned in their own classroom teaching. Time after time, the responses reveal a profound impact on teachers’ perspectives. Here’s an example: “The love, care, dedication, and hard work [farmers] do day in and day out without a day off to take care of all of us… is truly worthy of being honored!” And another: “It never occurred to me how many career opportunities there are in agriculture. The way technology has become such an intricate part of agriculture is amazing.” DSC_3083

It reaches far beyond the participants. One teacher impacts many students… year after year. Our SAI teachers take their new first-hand agricultural knowledge back to their classrooms. It’s one thing to read about harvest in a textbook, and quite another to hear your teacher describe what it’s like to climb into an enormous combine and see all the technology farmers have at their fingertips. In the end, though, when it comes to evaluating the Summer Ag Institute, the participants say it best. As one tired, but pleased teacher said as she got off the tour bus, “I’ve learned more this week than I have in ages.”

This post appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the July 2014 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

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