Agriculture in the Classroom: Free Teaching Resources

As we become for technologically advanced and our urban cities grow, I believe it is increasingly important for our youth to have an understanding of where our food comes from – both historically and today.

Whether you live in Atlanta or rural Nebraska, in the mountains or along the coast, engaging students in real world experiences and developing an awareness of agricultural practices is not difficult. There are many free teaching resources available for educators of all ages.

By encouraging teachers to integrate agriculture into their classroom via authentic, core curriculum concepts, Agriculture in the Classroom partners have collaborated to cultivate an understanding and appreciation of the food and fiber system that we all rely on every day.

classroomagriculture

An agriculturally literate person is defined as “one who understands and can communicate the source and value of agriculture as it affects our quality of life.”

Take some time to explore the variety of resources available – I share a few of my favorites below. You can put together an entire semester course or pick and choose a few lessons to augment your current studies.

 

Plant & Animal Science

Agriculture has traditionally been defined by the production of plants and animals. Today, science and technology have added new areas of research, and investigation to the agriculture field.

agricultureExtension 4-H professionals have developed a wealth of curriculum materials and a variety of hands-on agriculturally based activities to promote agricultural literacy among young people. Much is available for free but some curriculum modules are available for purchase.

Soil Science

To help educate students about the important role soil nutrients play in feeding our world, the Nutrients for Life Foundation sends out a monthly newsletter that will provide you with new ideas and tips for teaching plant and soil science while providing creative activities to bring into your classroom. They have also developed numerous modules for elementary, middle and high school classrooms to provide STEM activities and lessons.

soilscienceSoil Science Reader :: A digital science journal specifically designed for grades 7-8 (graphics and photographs capture interest) introduces soil formation and soil horizons with a fun edible soil activity. Other topics include the nitrogen cycle, plant nutrition, and fertilizer basics featuring the 4R Nutrient Stewardship.

Soil Reader :: Written specifically 5th & 6th grade students, this 18-page digital journal features an interview with an agriculture engineer and features puzzles, quizzes, and visuals to enhance a teacher’s soil unit.

For complete curriculum, posters, games, flashcards, and much more – visit the Nutrients For Life webstore. Everything is FREE!!

Invasive Species

Hundreds of invasive plants and animals have become established across the country and are rapidly spreading each year. These invaders are negatively impacting our waters, our native plants and animals, our agriculture, our health, our economy, and our favorite recreational places.

Prevention is the most effective strategy in managing invasive species. To increase public awareness of invasive species issues and promote public participation in the fight against invasive species and their impacts on our natural resources, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife have developed curriculum and materials available free to schools and educators.invasivespecies

Stop the Invasion :: Students will learn about six different invasive species, the damage they cause, and how to stop their spread.

If you reside in California, you may also be interested in the community action week with events across the state and a youth art contest. Similar programs may exist in your state. Contact your local department of fish and wildlife or county extension agency to learn more.

Soils Support Agriculture: Ideas to Integrate Writing

This month’s International Year of Soils theme is Soils Support Agriculture. The soil is the ultimate source of nutrients our bodies need. The vitamins and minerals that are a necessary part of our diet come from plants that have, in turn, gotten those same vitamins and minerals from the soil. Soils support agriculture by serving as the foundation of where we grow food.

soilssupportagWriting Contest

Each year, the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom sponsors a writing contest for youth. Their goal is to promote reading, writing and the arts, while also furthering the understanding of agriculture in our lives.

As a part of our Writer’s Workshop, I encouraged all of my students to submit an entry. Much to our delight, we recently learned that my son’s story was selected as a regional winner.

Papa’s Oranges

The young boy looked out the window and could see nothing but trees for as far as he could see. He knew he wasn’t at home. He glanced at the clock next to the bed, it was 7:00 a.m. The only thing he remembered was that he fell asleep in the car going to visit his papa. “I guess this is it,” the boy said to himself.

Every tree he could see was covered with oranges. His mom had said that his papa had a large orchard so he guessed this was his house. He jumped out of bed, threw on his shoes, and ran outside. “Mom, Dad, and Papa must not be up yet,” he thought.

He kept running until he could not see the house very well. He reached up and picked one of the oranges. He peeled it, the juice overwhelmed his taste buds. He wiped his face with his sleeve as the juice dripped down his chin.

“Is it good?” asked someone from behind him.

The boy jumped in surprise. “Yes, very.” The boy noticed it was his grandfather. “I thought you were asleep!” the boy cried.

“Well I am going for a walk. Would you like to join?” asked his grandfather.

“It would be my pleasure.”

They started walking even further into the orchard. Only then the boy saw what his papa was wearing. He had on a brown Fedora that was placed a little back on his head. He wore a tan shirt with a weathered leather jacket, long brown pants, and for some reason a whip was coiled on his hip.

“What’s that for?” the boy asked, pointing.

“Oh, my whip? It’s for Yankees – people that poison trees and pick all the fruit,” his papa answered with a grin.

They boy asked more questions as they continued to walk. “When I was pealing the orange, why was it so hard?”

“Well, you were in the juvenile patch so the orange peels are thicker. Those trees can grow to be 20 to 30 feet tall. Orange trees can bear fruit they reach their full height. Right ahead of us is the mature patch,” answered his papa.

As they continued to walk, his papa kept on talking about how the oranges grow. “I grow two kinds of oranges. Washington navels for an early season harvest and Valencia for a later season harvest.”

“How do you know when to harvest them?” the boy asked.

“Oranges develop their sweetness over time on the tree. I like to taste them each week. That’s how I know they are ready.”

“I love oranges, Papa. I like helping you, too.”

“I was thinking that when I retire you could take over,” his papa said as they returned to the house.

“You are joking!” the boy said disbelievingly.

“No, I am not. Are you interested?”

“Yes!!” the boy yelled.

“I thought you would like to have it.”

The boy then ran inside to tell his parents.

Lesson Plans

The Chemistry of Fertilizers – California Foundation AITC ~ Hands-on experiments, activities, practice problems, discussions and writing assignments are incorporated as students learn to break compounds into ions, make a fertilizer and test several fertilizers for phosphate content.

Chemistry in Plant Nutrition and Growth – Alaska AITC ~ Lesson plan with information, tables, diagrams, and questions about plant nutrients in soil.

Soil Sam – Illinois AITC ~ Students make a “Soil Sam” with a baby food jar to hold the soil and grass seeds planted to grow “hair”. Includes suggested additions to learn about fertilizers.

The Harvesting of Cranberries

Native Americans had been gathering cranberries for food, as a dye for blankets, and for medicine long before the first European settlers arrived.  After their arrival in New England, colonists also discovered cranberries and soon thereafter, on sailing ships and in logging camps, cranberries were eaten to ward off scurvy and by the middle of the 19th century, they were being grown on both sides of the continent.

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I grew up in a small town on the Oregon coast – where fishing, farming, and logging were prominent.  One of the largest agricultural products harvested in the area were cranberries.  Many of my friends’ families owned bogs and we looked forward to the annual Cranberry Festival each September when we would celebrate the annual harvest season.  A couple years ago, I was delighted to share this experience with my own children as we took a field trip to a bog to see the harvesting of cranberries first hand, Sweet, Tart Cranberries.

The Harvesting of Cranberries

Sadly, we were not able to go this year.  In consolation, we again enjoyed the book, Cranberries by William Jaspershohn.  Though the book focuses on the bogs of Massachusetts, the author does an excellent job of describing the varying harvest methods – wet and dry.  Another title for youth, though one I am not familiar, is Cranberries: Fruit of the Bogs by Diane Burns.

As cranberries are harvested in autumn, it is not surprising that they are commonly found on one’s Thanksgiving table.  In our home, we enjoy cooking the tart berries a variety of recipes year round. One of our favorites is Lingonberry Cake – a small, tart berry native to Norway that is similar to cranberry.

Lingonberry Cake

Cake:
2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1 egg
3/4 cup lingonberry or cranberry preserves

Streusel topping:
2/3 cup oatmeal
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F). Combine flour, sugar, and baking powder then cut in the butter with pastry blender. Add the egg and mix well. Spread into a greased 20×30 (8×12″) pan. Spread the preserves over the batter. Bake 25-30 minutes, until golden. Cool in the pan.

I feel it is important for children to understand where our food comes from. Having an understanding of food production and harvesting is important – particularly now with the controversy of GMOs. I encourage you to provide opportunities for your kids to discover the agricultural products in your local area.

Enjoy, but first, here is the Norwegian Table Prayer.

I Jesu navn går vi til bords
å spise, drikke på ditt ord.
Deg, Gud til ære, oss til gavn,
Så får vi mat i Jesu navn.

Amen.
In Jesus’ name to the table we go
To eat and drink according to His word.
To God the honor, us the gain,
So we have food in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

AUTUMNbookidea

This post is part of the Autumn Book & a Big Idea link-up at iHomeschool Network.

RAW Milk from Duivenvoorden Farms

We started purchasing Real Milk when we were still in Central Oregon.  The farmer in Oregon was small scale – milking only two-three cows.  The milk was delicious and it was a weekly treat to drive out to their farm for our milk.  We loved visiting their farm and would often visit with the family, even occasionally jump on the trampoline with their kids.

R.A.W. ~ Real And Wholesome

When we moved to Northern California, we were eager to seek out a local farmer with whom we could  take part in another herd-share agreement. Imagine our excitement when we learned of Duivenvoorden Farms, founded in 1963 by Rita and Gerard Duivenvoorden, immigrants from Holland looking to live the American Dream.

“Back in the 20s, Americans could buy fresh raw whole milk, real clabber and buttermilk, luscious naturally yellow butter, fresh farm cheeses, and cream in various colors and thicknesses. Today’s milk is accused of causing everything from allergies to heart disease to cancer, but when Americans could buy Real Milk, these diseases were rare. In fact, a supply of high-quality dairy products was considered vital to American security and the economic well being of the nation.  What’s needed today is a return to humane, non-toxic, pasture-based dairying and small-scale traditional processing, in short . . .  a Campaign for Real Milk.”  ~ Quoted from A Campaign for Real Milk.

Originally starting with 175 milk cows, they eventually got the herd up to 200. They operated with that herd from 1963 to 1988 ~ doing everything from custom farming, running a beef herd, raising calves, and shipping milk to a local creamery. In 1988, however, the original herd was sold and Duivenvoorden Farms moved on to other ventures.

In 2004, Duivenvoorden Farms began milking cows again, and currently milks 30 cows a day. The Herdshare program was started in 2008 and is now a small, pasture based dairy farm. The herd share program allows owners access to farm-fresh, quality, delicious raw milk from their Grade A dairy.

Now again, we enjoy driving out to the farm, visiting with Marc and his family, and interacting with the many animals (cats, dogs, pigs, goats, and of course the cows).  It is a wonderful feeling to know that we are not only supporting local, sustainable agriculture – but also helping to support local families with the same values as our own.

Real Milk .. Happy Cows

We have been buying real, unpasteurized milk for a few months now from another homeschool family. As we had recently enjoyed a field trip to a local dairy processing plant, Eberhard’s Dairy, I wanted to show the kids the alternative.  I thereby made arrangements with the family and we were encouraged to invite a few friends to join us. 
We arrived early in the morning, just in time to see how the milking machine is hooked up to the cow.  I didn’t get a picture, but the young woman pictured here moments before took the time to prep and cleanse the cow with iodine.  Notice, she also tied up the cows tail to keep it out of the way. 
The milking machine was underway and the kids then entertained themselves observing the young calf and playing with the barn cat.  It was cold and snowy outside so the heat lamp was on for the calf’s comfort.  

After the 3 gallon tank (if I recall the volume correctly) was filled, it was taken into the kitchen and poured into smaller jars for those (like us) who partake in the herd-share program.  It was fun to watch the kids’ enthusiasm and interest in the entire process.  The kids that had also taken part in the trip to Eberhard’s were especially intrigued.

When the trip concluded, I treated the kids to hot cocoa with real milk.  It was delicious and the perfect way to culminate the experience. 

Eberhard’s :: Field Trip

Earlier this week, we had the delightful opportunity to visit our local dairy.  The family owned business was started by Jack and Nelda Eberhard in 1951, and today is operated by 2nd generation, Bob, and 3rd generation, Mark. The experienced staff at Eberhard’s Dairy Products, consisting of 50 people, has over 460 years of combined experience in the dairy products business.  Eberhard’s offers a full line of locally manufactured milks, cottage cheese, sour cream, butter and ice creams under the Eberhard’s Quality Chekd label (since 1983).

In the photo above, Bob Ebherhard begins our tour showing us the room where the temperature of the storage tanks (pictured at top) are controlled. The raw milk is brought to these tanks daily and they process the milk from one tank at a time.

From here, we all donned hair nets and proceeded into the processing plant where we followed the milk through the process of pasteurization and homogenization.  We also visited the room in which sour cream and cottage cheese is made. The picture below shows where the pasteurized milk is poured into the jugs (background) and the label is attached (foreground). 

The picture below shows a portion of the machinery with which ice cream is produced.  Bob explained that they now use ammonia as their freezing agent (which is still the most efficient way to operate).  We learned that at Eberhard’s 20 different flavors are manufactured, 13 of which are available only in gallon sizes.  The most popular flavor, making up over 50% of their ice cream sales, is vanilla.  Three vanilla varieties are made … vanilla, french vanilla and vanilla bean.
 

We were shown how the milk crates are sanitized before the product is loaded (a mechanized case washer that transports stacks of crates along a conveyor belt), the dry storage area, and the cold room.  We also briefly stepped into the freezer storage, the largest (7,000 sq. ft. + 24’ high) and coldest (20°) storage freezer in Central Oregon.  

It was a very informative trip and we enjoyed every moment. Bob was very gracious to open his plant to us and the kiddos now feel a special bond with Moo Moo Belle, pointing her out when we see her face on the trucks and product labels in the stores.