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Telling the story about agriculture

Jan. 10, 2013 | 0 comments


When Darlene Anderson walks into the barn on her family’s Stoughton farm she finds among the assortment of farm supplies and equipment many boxes of classroom materials that will help teachers and volunteers tell the story about agriculture.

As coordinator of Wisconsin’s Ag in the Classroom (AITC) program, she never turns down the opportunity to get educational materials from the many commodity groups in Wisconsin who appreciate the opportunity to be included in programs that help teachers tell the story of modern agriculture.

Arneson comments, "Some people think our program is just for fourth-grade teachers because all Wisconsin students study Wisconsin’s largest industry as a part of their social studies curriculum. But really, Ag in the Classroom has evolved into a pre-kindergarten through high school program and often reaches all ages from the very young to senior citizens."

Arneson spent much of November and December travelling around the state, meeting with Ag in the Classroom coordinators, volunteers and county ag ambassadors, sharing ideas and providing resources for classroom volunteers and teachers.

At the meetings she introduced the newest tool available to local ag education groups, the "My American Farm" kiosk.

The kiosk debuted at the state Farm Bureau convention in early December and can be used to create awareness of the on-line game that will help consumers understand where their food comes from.

AITC was started in the early 1980s by the US Department of Agriculture with state contacts who implement programs top help teachers, students and volunteers educate others about agriculture.

States have various types of AITC structures, but many, like Wisconsin’s, are housed under the Farm Bureau. A few are part of the Cooperative Extension program, private foundations or state agriculture departments.

Arneson has served as the AITC coordinator for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau for the last eight years.

She comments, "Our programs are built around a strong partnership system that allows us to pool resources – financial and educational. Working together we are able to work through the classroom setting, home schoolers, 4-H and FFA activities and a variety of other venues."

A part of the program is the mini-grants available to teachers who earn undergraduate or graduate credits by taking the AITC training course.

This year’s training was in the Portage area with 23 participants in the two-day classes. The classes included tours of an ethanol plant, garden and flower center, Horicon Marsh International Education Center, a cranberry farm and discovery center, Foremost Farms and a Christmas tree farm.


The AITC program also sponsors an Outstanding Teacher Award, a fourth- and fifth-grade essay teacher contest, teacher and volunteer training opportunities, an agriculture book of the year program, lesson plans, workshops for 4-H and FFA members, website resources and ideas for hands-on activities.

One of the very popular activities is the Soybean Science Kits, sponsored by the Soybean Association.

Arneson says, "These kits come with supplies and lesson plans and tie agriculture and science together. We have 69 kits out on loan all around the state. We try to have one in every county. Some have more than one and others borrow from a neighboring county."

Besides those, some counties and agriculture departments have bought their own kits.

Arneson says the Soybean Science Kits are a great example of how commodity groups work together with the AITC program.

When Arneson visits the teachers’ conventions in the state she provides samples of materials that are available and encourages teachers and volunteers to utilize the website at www.wisagclassroom.org.

She also holds workshops during these conventions on how to use the Soybean Science Kit and other resources available for classroom use.


When she spoke with volunteers at the recent information meetings she urged them to work with their local FFA organizations.

Being a former agriculture education instructor and state FFA officer, she remains active in the FFA Alumni.

Arenson has been on the state FFA Alumni Council and the Wisconsin FFA Foundation board and she says these experiences help her understand the potential FFA offers for spreading the word about agriculture.

She points out, "As a sponsor of the Food for America Program, AITC also coordinates the judging of the contest and conducts interviews of the top 10 chapters from Wisconsin. Many chapters utilize our resources in their local Food for America, Partners in Active Learning Support (PALS) and National Ag Day Activities."

Her opportunity to represent agriculture on the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board has helped her bring environmental and agricultural educational programs together.

Arneson says, ‘Production agriculture and the environment are so closely connected that it makes sense that we work together to offer educational grants, resources and activities to teachers and students."

Agricultural education goes beyond the classroom with volunteers putting up displays and doing hands-on activities at county fairs, June Dairy month events, various festivals and Farm Technology Days.

At FTD, Arneson works together with BioTrek, the Science outreach program of the Biotechnology Center of UW-Madison, with other 4-H and Extension programs, and with local youth-oriented groups.

AITC is a sponsor of the Wisconsin State Fair camp for third through fifth grade students. The camp is offered for three days of the fair. Two of them are open for parents to register their students and the third day is geared to organized summer schools and day camps.

This year the program reached 313 youth with help from 69 counselors.

AITC also sponsors the State Fair Activity Books along with the culinary contest, Wisconsin Superstar Sandwich Showdown. The contest featured entries made with all Wisconsin products and participants had to write a paper on how the ingredients were raised, grown or produced.

As for getting the program out into the counties, Arneson says, "We rely on our over 70 county volunteer AITC coordinators who can help reach schools, home school parents and others in their counties. We help provide the resources they need and they reach out to those in their own communities."

Wisconsin’s Ag in the Classroom program, under Arneson’s leadership, has received numerous national awards over the years. Arneson has also personally been honored by many organizations for her outreach efforts.

Arneson and her husband, John, have three grown children and both are active in their local FFA and FFA Alumni, 4-H, Sons of Norway, Farm Bureau and their church.

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