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Educators tour local farms for ‘Ag in the Classroom’

Talking about farming: Jim Pitts, director of the Chilton Research and Extension Center, speaks to a group of about 85 educators on Thursday as part of the Ag in the Classroom Summer Institute. (Photo by Stephen Dawkins)

Talking about farming: Jim Pitts, director of the Chilton Research and Extension Center, speaks to a group of about 85 educators on Thursday as part of the Ag in the Classroom Summer Institute. (Photo by Stephen Dawkins)

Alabama educators were students of agriculture as part of the Ag in the Classroom Summer Institute.

Kindergarten through sixth grade teachers from across the state on Thursday toured local farms Petals from the Past and the Chilton Research and Extension Center, and listened to a panel of prominent farmers talk about and answer questions about agriculture.

The institute, which this year was based in Prattville, includes two days of workshops, a tour day and a graduation ceremony. The idea is for teachers to carry agricultural principles back to their schools—in the form of outdoor classrooms, school gardens or a variety of other ways.

About 85 teachers participated, said Kim Ramsey, Federation Women’s Leadership director and chairwoman of the Ag in the Classroom steering committee.

“There is a lot of different ways teachers can go about using the information we give them,” Ramsey said.

The teachers are given more than information. Upon graduation, they will receive about $250 worth of education materials including DVDs, textbooks, lesson plans, agriculture magazines and class sets of activity books.

Panel of experts: A panel of farmers that addressed educators included Dr. Arlie Powell, Jimmy Parnell, Andy Wendland and Dorman Grace. (Contributed photo)

Panel of experts: A panel of farmers that addressed educators included Dr. Arlie Powell, Jimmy Parnell, Andy Wendland and Dorman Grace. (Contributed photo)

“This workshop provides teachers with tools and curriculum,” Ramsey said. “We’re excited for the attendees to see farms, some of them for the first time, and be able to take back information to share in their classrooms.”

There is no fee for teachers to attend. Their expense is paid through sponsorships.

About 120 teachers usually apply each year, Ramsey said, through an application process that requires them to explain how they think they will benefit from the program.

“In the past, I’ve had students come to me and ask where their chocolate milk comes from,” said Renee Lyons, a teacher who attended last year’s AITC event. “Now I can speak to them with authority and explain where their food originates.”

The Alabama Farmers Federation sponsors AITC with funding primarily from the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation’s “ag tag” sales. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries and state agricultural organizations also provide support.

The panel of farmers that addressed teachers Thursday included Jimmy Parnell, president of the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance, and cattle and timber farmer; Dr. Arlie Powell of Petals from the Past; Dorman Grace, poultry and row crop farmer in Walker County; and Andy Wendland of Autauga Farming Company.

Parnell, of Stanton, said he believes it is important to share information about agriculture with educators.

“We want to have an open forum and let them ask us questions,” Parnell said.

For more information on Ag in the Classroom, visit alabamaaitc.org.