I was in school in the 80s, and I cannot ever recall being taught about agriculture or food, other than our health teacher encouraging us to eat from all four food groups. At that time, I worked to convince my parents that pizza was the perfect food, because it included them all.
Maybe the lack of connecting school subjects to farming was not because our teachers and administrators did not think it was important, but maybe they thought we already knew how food was produced. I bet most of my peers had a parent or grandparent that grew up on a farm.
My family raised chickens, dairy goats, rabbits, horses, and hay when I was kid. We all know the benefits of our young people being raised on a farm or having farm-related work experiences, and I bet the only negative thing my teachers could say about my childhood was that I was all too eager to explain to my classmates about how we got more baby goats and rabbits. Today, however, our children are three and four generations removed from the farm.
On May 29, 1992, the articles of incorporation for the Kentucky Agriculture in the Classroom were signed and filed. After realizing that the environment plays an integral role in food production, the name of the non-profit was changed to Kentucky Agriculture and Environment in the Classroom just a month later.
Rayetta Boone was an employee of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture at that time, and she was named the Director of Education to administer the efforts of the council of leaders made up of interested citizens and representatives of Kentucky major farm, conservation, and commodity organizations. She was paramount to the success of our organization for 16 years and built many wonderful programs.
Other instrumental individuals who helped shape the mission of the organization in the early years were First Lady Libby Jones, Commissioner Billy Ray Smith, Sister Amelia Stenger of Mount Saint Joseph, Jim Lacy, Dr. Jack Morgan, and the late Mike Ovesen and Buddy Adams.
Today, we are led by the current leaders of our Kentucky farm and conservation organizations and interested citizens. Even though the faces have changed over the years, the mission remains the same: to encourage and promote a partnership between agricultural and environmental groups and the educators of the Commonwealth to integrate important concepts of agriculture and environment into curriculum.
Successful programs have included providing teacher workshops and the mobile classroom units. In 2013, our agriculture organization members pooled funds to purchase two new mobile science activity centers, which doubled the number students the Kentucky Department of Agriculture could teach concepts of agriculture and environmental science. But even with two trailers, we could not keep up with demand.
KyAEC was then asked to purchase a third trailer in 2015, and again, the agriculture community joined together with the help the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund to purchase another classroom unit. We are so thankful that Commissioner Quarles and his staff have agriculture education as a primary initiative so these programs can continue.
In addition to maintaining past programs, we have worked to develop new programs over the past three years. One of which is the Agriculture Literacy Network. I realized what a tremendous resource we have in our farmer and agri-business professionals. They are asked to come to schools and speak at career days or provide field trip locations, or participate in agriculture education days, and we wanted to make sure that they had the tools and resources to make their jobs as easy as possible. We have grown the network to nearly 200 members and have held two workshops which has attracted 160 participants.
We also work with the Kentucky Farm Bureau to provide resources and training at teacher workshops across the state. More than 400 teachers participated at six locations last month.
The Kentucky Ag Development Board also helped us reinvigorate the student teacher workshop program, where we provided curriculum and ideas to teachers getting ready to start their careers.
New for this year is the Sponsor a Classroom program. Local conservation districts, farm bureaus, extension services, businesses, and individuals may provide a kit of resources to their local teachers. We like to call this “ag literacy in a box,” and the concept has taken off over the past few months; forty teachers have been sponsored to date.
In fact, Simpson County Ag Awareness Committee sponsored 10 teachers, which provided them a dedicated workshop where we shared how to use the different resources. They announced at lunch that they would like to raise funds for an additional 10 sponsorships, and the superintendent of Simpson Co. Schools stood up and offered to purchase those sponsorships. That was a huge testament to me that the teachers are excited, our administrators are excited, and the farm community is happy with what we are providing.
By my estimates, the Kentucky Agriculture and Environment in the Classroom has reached about a half-million students and teachers over the past 25 years.
With continued support and the efforts of our teachers and volunteers, I expect to reach the 1 million served mark by 2020. I want to thank everyone for believing in agriculture literacy, and here’s to the next 25 years!