Summer vacation is over and thousands of students are back in school. In the decades when most Americans lived on farms or in small towns, students did farm chores before and after school. When talking to many “experienced” farmers in the area, they can tell you of the numerous chores that needed to be done besides schoolwork. In the morning, they would feed and water the animals, milk the cows and gather the chicken eggs.
Upon returning home from school, they would often repeat the same chores, as well as help in the field with cultivation, planting and harvesting. Hard manual labor would likely sum up many of the daily chores that needed to get done. Old schoolbooks are full of agricultural references and examples because farming and farm animals were a familiar part of nearly every child’s life.
Beginning in the 1920s, the farm population began to shrink as fuel-powered equipment entered the picture, farms became more efficient, and farm kids moved to the cities for higher paying jobs. This transition from farm life to urban living continues to this day. With the loss of the population living on farms also came the loss of agricultural education in school classrooms. The emphasis on agriculture decreased significantly in schoolbooks and educational materials as agriculture became a specialty, rather than an integral part of every student’s life.
In 1981, at the invitation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, representatives of agricultural groups and educators attended a meeting in Washington, DC to discuss agricultural literacy. A national task force was selected from this group, with representation from agriculture, business, education and government agencies, and as a result, the USDA established Ag in the Classroom (AITC).
Today, each state organization addresses agriculture education in a way best suited to its own needs. For several years, the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) was the state contact for Ag in the Classroom. In the fall of 2005, IFB combined efforts with the University of Illinois Extension, Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education (FCAE), commodity organizations, and others. AITC has advanced because of a cooperative spirit among its participants.
During the last school year, Peoria County’s AITC program reached thousands of third- through sixth-grade students. Seven ag-related topics were selected to be taught in the schools, including nutrition, Illinois River transportation, renewable energy, corn/soybeans, dairy, pork and gardening. Each topic was the focus for one or two months. A total of 24 volunteers and an ag coordinator conducted 824 classroom presentations in 35 Peoria County elementary and middle schools. Students found the 30-minute presentations fascinating, fun and educational, as evidenced by the “thank you” notes sent to the presenters.
During this 2013-2014 school year, students will again have the opportunity to learn about seven ag-related topics selected by Farm Bureau volunteers and Ag Coalition members. They include: pizza (origin of the ingredients), beef, poultry/eggs, soybeans/corn, dairy cows, pork and gardening. The AITC program is regarded as a refreshing and flexible educational program designed to supplement and enhance the teacher’s existing curriculum. For more information, visit peoriacountyfarmbureau.org or find the Ag Literacy Facebook page at facebook.com/aitcpeoriacounty. iBi