The ABCs of Agricultural Education: Where Food Comes From

Does chocolate milk come from brown cows?

The Wallowa FFA Chapter in Wallowa, Ore., helped school children discover the answer to that question – and taught them a lot more about where their food comes from – as part of the Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) Literacy Project.

The statewide program selects a book (the 2017 book was Allison Investigates: Does Chocolate Milk Come from Brown Cows? and the next selection is Apples to Oregon) and asks volunteers to read it with students and complete a hands-on lesson. Oregon AITC provides free curriculum and resources for teachers. In 2016, the program engaged 757 volunteers and 21,354 students in 902 classes across Oregon. The FFA chapter at Wallowa High School has been participating since 2011.

“It’s something our FFA kids take a lot of pride in,” says Jeremy McCulloch, agricultural science teacher and FFA advisor.

The goal, he explains, is to provide engaging opportunities to help schoolkids learn about agriculture. In addition to the Oregon AITC provided curriculum, the FFA chapter plans its own lessons, such as hosting petting zoos and planting hanging baskets. McCulloch also encourages FFA members to plan activities around their agricultural interests, which has led to lessons in roping cattle and incubating chicks. To complement the Apples to Oregon curriculum, students operated a caramel apple booth at the school harvest festival.

“We want to make real-world connections to agriculture and do activities that the kids get excited about,” McCulloch says.

In 2016, the Wallowa FFA Chapter was a finalist for a statewide Agriculture Advocacy Award from Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom, and one member, Ashley Starner, won an FFA individual proficiency award for the literacy project.

McCulloch believes the benefits extend beyond awards, noting, “For our FFA kids who want to become teachers, this gives them an opportunity to test out a potential future career path.”

Several students who participated in Oregon AITC in their younger years are now older FFA members with fond memories of the hands-on classroom lessons, and they want to carry on the tradition. The program is so popular that students campaign within their FFA chapter to take on the role of AITC chair.

“It’s a great way to get involved in community service and one of the most popular projects we do as a chapter,” McCulloch says. “Everyone benefits when we promote agricultural education.”

Learn about the Living to Serve platform, including ways to educate your community about agriculture and the grants to help you get started.