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June 01, 2012   Email to Friend 

Learning Barns Build Strong Ag Foundation
Mary Johnson

Lillian Slay reads to students next to the learning barn at Chambers Academy.
County Farmers Federations across the state have started a modern-day barn-raising.

Learning barns are barn-shaped bookcases filled with children’s agriculture books that have been distributed to schools and libraries in eight counties, with more on the way.

The two-person Monroe County Young Farmers Committee heard about the program last year and decided to take up the task of building the learning barns for the six elementary schools in the county.

“If children don’t know about farming, it’s hard for them to consider it as a career,” said Chase Bradley, chairman of the Monroe County Young Farmers Committee. “So hopefully a kid will see this and think that’s something they want to do in the future.” Bradley said he hopes to have the bookcases distributed to the schools by the end of the school year. Mike Powell, the ag teacher at Excel High School, took on construction of the learning barns as a project for his senior class.

Other county Farmers Federations that have joined the learning barn project include Butler, Chambers, Cherokee, Cullman, Dale, Elmore, Houston and Lauderdale.

The program got its start with the Virginia Farm Bureau. After hearing about the barns, Alabama Farmers Federation Women’s Leadership Division Director Kim Earwood contacted the group for background information and blueprints, which can be distributed to any county organization.

The Chambers County Women’s Leadership Committee did its homework, and in 2010 built three of the barns. Another four were added in 2011. The group’s chairman, Lillian Slay, says she hopes to have two more finished by the end of the year, which will cover all the elementary schools in the county.

“We just feel like they can learn something about agriculture,” Slay said of the students in her county. “We put together a teacher’s notebook with things to take lessons out of, and it’s a real thick notebook with lots of material.”

Slay said she works to have the lumber donated and involves trade schools and friends in the construction of the bookcases. The Women’s Leadership Committee donated 25 elementary agriculture books with each learning barn.

In Lauderdale County, the Women’s Leadership Committee and the Farmers Federation worked to build the bookcases for the public libraries and provided nine books with each.

“We were trying to get more kids access to agriculture related books, especially in the city libraries,” said Regina Wiley, president of the Lauderdale County Women’s Leadership Committee. Bradley said farmers in his county shares the same sentiments. He said he hopes the program introduces kids to the true source of their food and fiber.

“When you ask a little kid where their food comes from, they’ll say a grocery store,” Bradley said. “The kids don’t yet go through the process to ask where the grocery store gets it from. (The books) go into great detail about agriculture. The kids will learn how milk comes from a cow, what comes out of the ground, and where their food is actually coming from.”

For more information, including blueprints for the program, contact Earwood at kearwood@alfafarmers.org or call (334) 612-5370.


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