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GFB members and staff learn to navigate current of ag literacy


By: Georgia Farm Bureau
3/8/2017 11:13:42 AM


Farm Bureau volunteers and county staff who attended the annual Georgia Farm Bureau Educational Leadership Conference March 4 in Columbus heard practical tips for taking agriculture into the classroom and talking to consumers about how farmers grow their food.

"If we don't share what we know, then we're going to pay for it in the future. Activists who don't understand agriculture have an agenda, and if we don't tell our story they will reshape our story and tell it for us," GFB
Women's Leadership Committee Chairman Rhonda Williams told attendees in the opening session.

Dr. David Mouser, school superintendent of Tri-Valley CUSD #3 in Downs, Illinois, encouraged conference attendees to remember as they interact with others, especially students they meet in the course of their Farm Bureau volunteer work, that the smallest things we do for the kids and each other can make a lasting impact on others' lives.

Mouser began his career as an ag teacher before advancing to serve as a high school principal and then superintendent. He praised ag education for its inclusive nature that benefits students of varying developmental levels and skill sets.

Mouser offered four suggestions for Farm Bureau volunteers to implement as they tell the story of agriculture to school children or adults in their communities: 1) share not only your successes but also your failures; 2) focus on the child in front of you when volunteering in a school and consider the emotional issues the child may have brought to school with him from home; 3) look at kids in the eyes, shake their hands, or pat them on the back and tell them you're glad they're here and; 4) have faith in other people.

"You can't just share things that work. We should also share things that didn't work so we can get better together," Mouser said while sharing that the first time he tried to teach welding he shocked himself in front of his class and had to confess to his students that he didn't know how to weld. Mouser said his confession to his students and his pledge they would learn together resulted in his students becoming engaged in the class and recruiting other students to the FFA program.

Lindsay Calvert, director of leadership development for the American Farm Bureau, shared tips on how to talk to consumers about agriculture with EASE. Calvert suggested farmers Engage with consumers by listening to them to find common interests they share such as football, cooking or children. She encouraged farmers to Acknowledge consumers' right to have concerns about how their food is grown, Share things they are doing on their farms to care for animals or protect the environment and Earn the trust of consumers by talking in terms and language they can understand.

"We have to get over the attitude we as farmers have of 'How dare they question what I do on my farm?'," Calvert
said. "We can't go into defense mode because as soon as we get defensive we turn people off."

Calvert recommended that farmers avoid ag jargon and acronyms consumers aren't familiar with such, as broilers when talking about meat chickens. She said the ag community should use the word farmers instead of producers and farms instead of operations, to avoid the perception of factory agriculture.

In 2015, a national priority was set to increase the number of U.S. students and teachers who are proficient in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) using hands-on activities that teach students critical thinking skills. Michele Reedy, director of North Carolina Farm Bureau's Ag in the Classroom program, led a workshop exploring how the trend of schools adopting a STEM curriculum can pave the way for getting Ag in the Classroom activities and volunteers into schools.

Demonstrating Reedy's point, Marla Garnto and Adrienne Bickel, teaching partners at Northside Elementary School in Houston County, led a workshop with Carol Baker Dunn, GFB 8th District Women's Leadership Committee Chairman, who shared how they work as a team using Ag in the Classroom lessons to meet STEM requirements.

"We need to adopt ag curriculum from kindergarten on because it's so adaptable," said Garnto, who received the 2016 GFB Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year Award.

Garnto began using Ag in the Classroom lessons after attending a GFB Ag Educator Workshop Houston County Farm Bureau (HCFB) hosted.

With the help of HCFB, Garnto and Bickel grow a class garden, study bees with a visit from a local beekeeper, discuss how manure fertilizes the soil and worms aerate the soil. They also worked with Dunn and Perdue Farms to increase the efficiency with which workers at Perdue Farms hang chickens on the processing line. Students used graphing, math and language skills to evaluate the efficiency problem, come up with possible solutions and then presented their findings in a board room presentation to Perdue managers.

"Once teachers see how excited kids get about Ag in the Classroom activities they'll buy into it," Bickel said.
Williams and GFB 5th Dist. Women's Chairman Melissa Bottoms conducted a workshop featuring the book, "First Peas to the Table," by Susan Grigsby. Williams and Bottoms showed conference attendees how they can use the book to teach students parts of the flower by making a flower craft or plant pea seeds and keep a garden journal as the book's main character does.

Conference attendees also bid on 58 donated items offered in a silent auction that raised $2,294 for the GFB Foundation for Agriculture.

On Friday before the conference began, members of the GFB Women's Leadership Committee visited Downtown Elementary Magnet Academy in Columbus, where they read the book, "First Peas to the Table," to 45 kindergarten students and planted pea seeds with the students.


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