Ag in the ClassroomSoars to New Heights in its 30th Year
Article by Jennifer Ray
In 1986, Top Gun was the highest-grossing movie, camcorders started to become a popular household item and pork was declared "the other white meat." The year also marks the beginning of the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, a non-profit organization focused on increasing awareness and understanding of agriculture among California's educators and students.
The groundwork for this organization started in 1980, as an effort of the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF). Teachers in the San Francisco Unified School District asked CFBF to assist with a field trip to a farm. This request sparked a new project and program designed to help teachers.
"The initial Farm Days in the City project set the stage for the need for agricultural education, especially among our city friends," says CFAITC Executive Director, Judy Culbertson. "It was evident that students in San Francisco did not have an opportunity to be exposed to where their food came from before the grocery store."
Due to the overwhelming support of Ag in the Classroom from the entire agricultural industry, CFBF orchestrated the formation of the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC)in 1986. Over the years, the organization has built a reputation for providing quality, scientifically-accurate teaching resources to educators, free of charge.
"School representatives are pleased when they see our resources and attend our trainings. We work to bring the classroom to life through hands-on examples of agriculture," Culbertson says. "We work hard to keep our content aligned to California's education standards, which have changed over the years. We try to make it easier for teachers, by designing units and lessons that fit into all the curricular areas – science, nutrition, math, English and the arts."
Culbertson has been with CFAITC since the very beginning and says the organization was one of the first focused on agricultural education. Over the years, others states have grown to develop their own programs.
"California's Ag in the Classroom program is considered by most observers to be the premier program of its kind in the United States, in large part because California agriculture is in a world of its own," says Rick Phillip's, Manager of Public Affairs for J.R. Simplot Company and regional representative for the Nutrients For Life Foundation.
One way CFAITC serves as a leader within California is by bringing together resources and ideas from like-minded organization that also promote agricultural literacy. Some organizations focus on nutrition, others on school gardens, while some are focused on specific communities or particular agricultural commodities. By connecting these organizations in its efforts, CFAITC has created a one-stop-shop for educators through its more traditional Teacher Resource Guide and the recently updated website, which highlights partnering organizations and keeps a calendar of Ag Literacy, Farm and Garden Events offered throughout the state. The new website aims to serve as an easier-to-navigate, mobile-friendly platform that promotes all CFAITC and the agricultural industry have to offer and helps connect educators with the resources they need.
Long-time supporters of Ag in the Classroom can look forward to reconnecting with the organization for its 30th anniversary celebration, as past traditions are given new life. This includes bringing back the Summer Ag Institute, a week-long training program for teachers, and updating the "Fabulous Food Machine" slide show. Both projects were signature resources in 1980s. The organization will also reach out to recognize early donors, who helped give the organization its roots.
"The celebration of the 30th year anniversary brings to mind a wonderful career, having the opportunity to make and keep friends throughout the state – folks that have the same passion for agriculture as I do," Culbertson says.
A lot has changed since 1986. Trends have come and gone and technologies have improved, but some achievements have stood true to the test of time. The movie, Top Gun was recently added to the National Film Registry, and the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom is still soaring to new heights. The organization continues to improve its use of technology and tactics while staying true to its mission. With a new crop of students and teachers each year, CFAITC continues its work to develop an understanding and appreciation of agriculture. Roger that, Ghostrider.