Educational Leadership Conference: Put courage over comfort
The Georgia Farm Bureau Educational Leadership Conference, postponed because of the pandemic, made its return Nov. 5 and 6, giving participants equal doses of philosophy, technique and fun at the Marriott Convention Center in Augusta.
Georgia Farm Bureau President Tom McCall spoke at lunch, telling conference attendees that it is important to get back to face-to-face advocacy for Georgia's farmers and inviting them to the GFB Convention in December.
“To our classroom teachers, thank you. The future generation that y’all are looking after is going to protect what we do,” McCall said. “Where we have got to hit home, and this is what Farm Bureau’s job is, is educating the general public, starting with little kids, on how important agriculture is.”
FarmHer founder Marji Guyler-Alaniz shared her experiences leaving a corporate job to pursue agriculture, then documenting the work and lives of women in agriculture.
Guyler-Alaniz’ main message to conference participants was to overcome the fear of taking risks.
“Putting courage over comfort leads to great things,” she said.
Guyler-Alaniz started the FarmHer project with photos and stories in 2013, after she saw the Super Bowl commercial featuring Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” poem. The commercial, she noticed, had little female presence, and she was immediately convinced that women in ag deserve more attention. She noted that women make up 27% of U.S. farmers, and their numbers grew by 26% from 2012 to 2017 according to the Census of Agriculture.
“From that, I realized it wasn’t just me who cared about this,” she said.
So Guyler-Alaniz travels to farms, taking photos of women doing the dirty and sweaty work of farming. In 2016 she was approached by RFD-TV about a television show. FarmHer has featured more than 350 women who farm, producing a wide range of commodities.
In addition to overcoming fears, Guyler-Alaniz encouraged attendees to constantly remember their reasons for farming.
The Educational Leadership Conference featured a collection of workshops designed to help county Farm Bureau staff and volunteers develop agricultural activities for school lessons.
The Martinez Elementary School Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Team from Columbia County, led by teachers Valery Dinkins and Charmane Joiner, shared experiences teaching students healthy eating, problem-solving and critical thinking skills through the school’s Farm to Table program. The program included a presentation from the school dietitian, visits to the Augusta Market and designing their own garden boxes.
The school is pursuing this at all grade levels, beginning with kindergarteners who worked as “Kinderneers” on ag-related projects.
While growing their own plants, the Kinderneers are developing language and math skills crucial to success in STEM careers. They designed garden boxes and worked with Scott Clark of R.W. Allen Construction in Augusta to learn about engineering. They even got to wear hard hats and reflective safety vests, and they learned about plant spacing, climbing plants that require trellises and other ag-related topics.
Georgia Department of Education STEM/ Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Program Specialist Felicia Cullars introduced the Martinez group, emphasizing that the school’s program follows the major components of effective STEM education – that it is done in a positive environment and with community involvement.
“The biggest thing for our students is that they’re being able to solve problems, they’re working in a collaborative environment in their school,” Cullars said. “Each time that we can get the kids to collaborate, to come together, to solve a problem or an issue, that is something we encourage to be embedded in lesson planning.”
GFB Leadership Programs Coordinator Breana Berry presented information to help county Farm Bureau staff and county leaders recruit and keep volunteers for their work in local communities.
“None of us is as strong as all of us,” Berry said. “It is hard to get volunteers, but it is harder to do everything alone.”
Berry noted that people like to have a sense of belonging, advised following the Golden Rule when interacting with volunteers, and said excitement is contagious.
“People make time for the things they want to make time for,” she said.
Carroll County teacher Jennifer Carroll led participants through an activity to create wildflower seed “bombs” to promote pollinator habitat. The seed bombs consisted of balls of soil, clay or cat litter and seeds. When placed on the ground, they generate a small stand of wildflowers.
Carroll also shared sources for K-5 agricultural and STEM apps, as well as how to find grants to fund classroom projects.
Colquitt County Farm Bureau Office Manager Greta Collins led the session, “Bringing Gardens Inside!” The session covered how to develop hydroponic gardens in small indoor spaces. Collins walked the group through making a hydroponic planter using a water bottle, clay pebbles, rock wool, seeds and plant food. Collins suggested that volunteers provide ready-made kits for teachers to save them time. These hydroponics planters can be used to grow a variety of vegetables.
Collins also demonstrated how the harvested veggies can then be used as ingredients to make salsa in the classroom, allowing students a hands-on activity to prepare food and then have a snack.
“Let them touch everything,” Collins said. “We want them to be as involved as possible.”