March 18, 2012

Getting agriculture into the classroom

Peter Hagar: Cornell Ag Connection

---- — I grew up with multiple connections to agriculture. As the son of a veterinarian, I looked forward to riding along on farm calls to help care for sick or injured farm animals.

The smells of disinfectant, silage and cow manure became the aromas that today bring back memories of the experiences that filled my childhood. I watched the birth of dozens of calves and held untold numbers of milk-fever treatment bottles above my head while the IV slowly dripped.

On top of that, I had two uncles who were dairy farmers. Summers and vacations were spent in barns full of cows, riding tractors and poking around every nook and cranny of old barns and rocky pastures.

Learning about farming and agriculture wasn't a chore back then, it was an adventure.

Today's youth rarely have the opportunity to experience agriculture the way I did.

With fewer and fewer kids growing up on working farms, there is less opportunity for the hands-on education that was more common in the past. If you had relatives who farmed, chances are likely that you would be recruited for summer haying, helping with milking chores and learning about how much hard work farming takes. In today's world, this lack of personal connection has made it harder for youth to understand and appreciate how farmers produce food and fiber.

And because most farms today are owned by individuals or family businesses, it is much harder for them to share their stories and have a voice in the education of today's non-farming majority.

Introducing agriculture as a topic in schools across New York has been the mission of the New York Agriculture in the Classroom program since 1985. Agriculture in the Classroom is a partnership of Cornell University, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the New York State Education Department, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the New York Farm Bureau.

School teachers, Cornell Cooperative Extension and many volunteers work together to increase agricultural literacy in New York State.

During Agriculture Literacy Week, March 19 through March 23, volunteers across New York will read the book "Seed, Soil, Sun" to second graders. Followed by hands-on activities and follow up lessons, students will learn about the amazing process by which air and water combine with seed, soil and sun to create nearly all the food we eat.

The program hopes that both students and teachers will learn more about farming and better appreciate the economic, social, historic and scientific significance of agriculture in our local and global society.

Another resource being offered to local educators is a two-part training called "Food, Land & People."

FLP is a science and social studies based curriculum developed for teachers from pre-K to 12th grade developed to help students understand the connection between agriculture, the environment and people. With 55 lessons for hands-on learning and critical thinking, FLP explores a range of topics such as food and nutrition, natural resources, conservation, farming and other land-use issues.

The curriculum is aligned to New York State Learning Standards and includes lesson plans, supporting information, assessment options and resources.

Participants who attend both trainings will receive the Food, Land & People's Resources for Learning CD-Rom (includes all 55 lessons), four hours of professional-development credits, a participation certificate and tools and resources from the New York Farm Bureau Foundation.

The training will be held locally at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County office from 6:15 to 8:30 p.m. on April 3 and 30. If you are a teacher, farmer, educator or volunteer wishing to help teach students more about agriculture, please register by March 26.

For more information, visit Cornell's Agriculture in the Classroom website at or e-mail

Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Rt. 22, Plattsburgh, 12901. Call 561-7450.