Ag In The Classroom Yields Many Lessons

Ag In The Classroom Yields Many Lessons

Mary Hartney head shot

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Facing a county commission is easier for me than addressing a classroom of eager, active kindergartners and first graders. I discovered this about myself when I recently accepted two invitations to participate in the Great American Teach-In, a day in November where guest speakers come to classrooms to share their careers, interests, and life stories with students. I had the chance to talk to 5- and 6-year-olds at Pine View Elementary in Land O’ Lakes thanks to an invitation from Jillian Baker (daughter of FFAA Board Director Gaylon Pfeiffer) and to three third-grade classes at Knights Elementary in Plant City at the invitation of CF Industries’ Harold Falls, one of FFAA’s finest fertilizer industry volunteer leaders. I learned CF Industries is one of Knights’ “Partners in Education” and has helped the Southwest Florida Water Management District, local Walmart employees, and others in the community to restore a natural wetland on the school’s property.
In an effort to target my audience with age-appropriate information, I turned to the experts at the Nutrients For Life Foundation (NFLF) and Florida Ag In the Classroom (FAITC). Thanks to the tutoring, teaching tips and tactics, and awesome handouts and posters from NFLF Florida Regional Representative Joan Kyle and FAITC Executive Director Lisa Gaskalla, I prepped to share the story of modern agriculture.

Giving Thanks

My presentation asked students to remember: “This Thanksgiving, Thank a Farmer and N, P & K.” The history of how the native Americans saved the Pilgrims from starving by teaching them how to care for the soil and add nutrients (in that case, fish) was a good starting point for a lesson in why soils are one of our most precious natural resources. Nearly every student realized air and water are important natural resources, but none knew we work to protect soils, too! I made good use of NFLF’s colorful and educational posters explaining the vital role nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) play in plant health. And they were a big hit with the students and teachers.

One of the other great teaching tools I used was a large red apple prop provided by Agrium (and I brought a fresh apple for the teacher, too!). Agrium’s apple is a magnetic puzzle board, cleverly designed to symbolize our world. It demonstrates just how little of our globe is actually suitable for food production. This point gets made as pieces of the apple are carved off. First, take away the portion of the globe covered by the world’s waters (great for aquaculture, but not ideally suited for grains, fresh fruit, or vegetable production). Chunks of the apple are then set aside representing deserts, ice lands, mountains, parks, recreation areas, cities, and areas where we live, work, and go to school. I acknowledged it is possible to grow plants in some of these areas, but it’s not easy or efficient in most cases.

Fruit For Thought

When all’s said and done, the apple is pared down to 1/32 of its original size, and the peel on that sliver represents the soils we must protect, replenish, and use for food production. Otherwise, we’ll have to cut into the areas we’ve set aside for recreation, wildlife, and the environment to feed a growing world population.

The key takeaway is that modern agriculture — through the judicious use of fertilizers and crop protection products — can make the most of what we have available to feed the world. And that’s a good lesson for all of us to learn.