Transplant. It is what we do each spring with our tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. Moving our seedlings from smaller containers to our garden beds, allowing root systems to spread and our plants to grow. It is also one of the most fun lessons to teach students. After starting seeds and watching them sprout in their classrooms, working to build raised beds, and filling the beds shovel by shovel with soil, the student’s enthusiasm has started to boil over. As little bodies kneel around the garden bed they are instructed on how to gently squeeze the bottom of the container to loosen the soil, where to put their fingers on the stem, and shown how to wiggle it free without damaging this living, breathing plant that will produce delicious food. While there are always a few seedling causalities along the way, the first time one of those students finds a worm or gets mud up to their elbows is truly when that school garden begins to grow.
New York Agriculture in the Classroom, an outreach program of Cornell University, partners with teachers across the state to facilitate these types of garden-based learning opportunities and connections to agriculture. We know that the students sitting in our classrooms today are at least four generations removed from agriculture, even in rural Upstate New York. As our farmers today provide the nation with a safe and abundant food supply, we do not have to think about where our next meal is coming from and it allows us the luxury to pursue careers we love. However, this leaves our students with a knowledge-gap in how food is produced. Our goal as a program is to help increase the agricultural literacy of students, with the hope that they will be able to understand and communicate the source and value of agriculture as it affects their quality of life.
Since 2015, New York Agriculture in the Classroom has been happily transplanted in Lewis County, based in Turin. With a program focus on training teachers how to integrate agriculture into their curriculum through school gardens, books, lessons, and contests, there is no better place to have our office than in a county with more cows than people. Knowing that we are a key piece in the continuum of agricultural education, it is an added benefit to be close to the excellent FFA chapters of South Lewis, Lowville, and Beaver River. During a visit to Beaver River FFA last March, six high school agriculture students participated in our Agricultural Literacy Week program, where we select one agriculturally accurate book that is read in classrooms across the state and over 52,000 students are led in a hands-on lesson related to the book topic. The FFA members wrote and delivered their own apple-based lessons to pair with the selected book The Apple Orchard Riddle. Watching them lead experiments with the elementary students on slowing down apple browning, identifying apple parts, and taste testing apple cider is a testament to the partnered work New York Agriculture in the Classroom and FFA have in helping our students understand, appreciate, and transplant knowledge of agriculture to the next generation.
While Ashley Willits was working at the Oswegatchie Educational Center, she had a strong desire to understand the work of Agriculture in the Classroom and served as an intern updating lessons and working on special projects. After shooting through the ranks of New York FFA as a state officer, summer camp counselor, and future agriculture teacher, she was elected to the highest possible office in the organization. In October 2016, Ashley was named the Eastern Region Vice President for the National FFA Organization and is spending this year traveling across the country to train FFA members in leadership development, personal growth, and career success. Ashley’s roots grew strong as she developed her passion for agriculture, and we are proud that she is now flourishing and thriving through this unique opportunity.
Through teaching students to garden, introducing lessons about food systems, or helping kids boil their first sap to syrup there are no boundaries to integrating agriculture at any grade level. We encourage you to connect with New York Agriculture in the Classroom to help transplant your passion for foods produced in Lewis County to our local schools and teachers. To learn more, visit our website at www.agclassroom.org/ny. To engage with the Oswegatchie Educational Center visit www.oswegatchie.org or call 315-346-1222.
Katie Carpenter is the State Director of New York Agriculture in the Classroom, and can be reached at email@example.com. She and her husband, Derek, were recently married at the Oswegatchie Educational Center where they met as staff 12 years ago.
Article to also be published in the Lowville Journal Republican Progress Edition.
The New York FFA Foundation
The NYSFFALTF, Inc., chartered in 1946 by the New York State Board of Regents, is a not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) charitable organization that provides businesses, associations, other foundations, and individuals the opportunity to contribute to the growth and success of our New York youth. Our mission is to build and maintain a financial base that will allow the New York FFA to generate well-educated and career focused productive citizens. Email our Director at firstname.lastname@example.org .