At the Alabama Ag in the Classroom Summer Institute, teachers from across the state put away their rulers and textbooks and took to the fields, learning hands-on education techniques for incorporating agricultural lessons into their classrooms. Hosted June 12-14 at the Grand National Marriott in Opelika, participants spent an entire day visiting local agriculture centers and farms, including the Lazenby Farm in Auburn.
“We roll out the red carpet for this group because teachers mean so much to us,” said farmer Mitch Lazenby. “(This event) allows teachers to actually see farmers who are very passionate about what they do and are willing to put everything they’ve got into it: sweat, blood, money, and sometimes sacrificing quality time with their families. School kids will benefit from knowing where their food comes from and learning to value food grown safely and abundantly in our country.”
At the Lazenby farms, educators walked through corn and cotton fields and enjoyed lunch while learning what it takes to run an agritourism business.
Another tour stop at the Randle Farms in Auburn exposed teachers to a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA). The Randles supply seasonal fruits and vegetables to patrons each week for a yearly fee. Attendees walked the grounds, munching fresh-picked blueberries and carrots as sheep grazed nearby.
The day rounded out with visits to the Southeastern Raptor Center, Auburn University’s Horticulture Department and the Fisheries Department at Auburn University’s Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station.
Walter Jackson Elementary School librarian and Auburn alum Todd Jackson said the tours introduced him to parts of the university he had never seen before.
“When I think about agriculture, I don’t think about farming fish,” Jackson said. “I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the fisheries and learning how they feed, sell and market fish. When we were at the greenhouses, I was fascinated with the hydroponic grow boxes. I think kids will get a kick out of growing something just from water.”
Attendees also participated in seminars and craft-making activities which can be incorporated into their classrooms.
The institute provided each teacher with farming books, lesson plans, DVDs and other educational resources.
Faucett-Vestavia Elementary School kindergarten teacher Jacqueline Hope said she had a number of “whoa” moments during the institute, like when she watched a video of a chick hatching.
“That was amazing to me,” Hope said. “I know if it’s amazing to me, it’s amazing to my kids. (The institute) has been so enlightening, and it is something authentic that I never would have gotten by sitting in the classroom.”
The AITC program receives the majority of its funding from the Farming Feeds Alabama license plates. For more information about the program, visit AlabamaAITC.org.