The sheer size of the combine stops the children in their tracks. Then come the questions. “Can I sit in it?” the children ask.
“Sure,” says the farmer.
Score another memory for Adopt a Farmer. The program, started five years ago and operated by Oregon Aglink, is one of several farm programs in Oregon that help educate youth about agriculture.
In the program, middle school students visit a farm and then welcome the farmer into their classroom for two or three follow-up sessions.
While the “wow factor” that students experience in the on-farm visits helps get their attention, it is only a small part of the program, says Geoff Horning, executive director of Oregon Aglink.
“We have a ton of activities that are science-based for the classroom,” Horning says. “And the field trips are more than just hanging out around the farm equipment. We bring in experts to talk about farm production. We bring in GPS guidance systems and show how they work and how the farmer utilizes the systems. Often, the farmer’s agronomist comes out and talks about soil types, soil erosion and what the farmers are doing to avoid erosion. They talk about irrigation practices – what farmers are doing to conserve water.”
The program started with just three schools. Today, 47 middle schools, from Medford to Portland and from Bend to The Dalles, participate.
Grass seed and straw farmer Shelly Boshart Davis, who has participated in Adopt a Farmer for three years, says the program provides an excellent vehicle to educate youth about farming and is rewarding for farmers.
“Just to open the children’s eyes to this is tremendously rewarding,” Davis says. “Some of these kids have never been in an orchard. They’ve never been in a wheat field or a grass seed field. They have no idea what is inside these barns.
“Adopt a Farmer is one of the really amazing ways that we can teach the next generation about farming and the great world of agriculture,” she says.
Another program helping educate youth about agriculture in Oregon is Ag in the Classroom. Established in 1981, the program encourages kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers to integrate agriculture into their curriculum by educating teachers about agriculture and providing them in-class materials.
Jessica Jansen, executive director of the program, uses the example of a pumpkin when describing how the program works. “We have a pumpkin math and science lesson, where we are encouraging teachers to use pumpkins to teach circumference and diameter,” Jansen says.
Then there are the seed kits, where children plant seeds in cups of dirt and watch the seeds turn into vibrant plants over the course of the school year.
“The seed kits are wonderful. The kids loved growing the plants,” says Melissa Doherty, an elementary school teacher from Hermiston. “Science has become their favorite class.”
Then there is the wheat grinder. “Teachers who rent our wheat grinder say their students love this lesson,” Jansen says. “One teacher said many of her students had never watched fresh bread being made and had never seen wheat being ground.
“Our generation today is becoming more and more removed from production agriculture,” Jansen says. “Before, students had some not-too-distant family members – generally grandparents – that were involved in production agriculture. That is not the case anymore. And it is really important that students have an understanding of the source of their food and fiber.”
The program reached 120,000 students last year, Jansen says, providing school children throughout Oregon a little more knowledge about an industry that touches their lives on a daily basis.