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Rural Life: Classroom Connection

August 24, 2013
By: Sara Schafer, Farm Journal Media Business and Crops Editor
Students from St. Vincent Ferrer School in River Forest, Ill., milked goats and were amazed by the open spaces when visiting the Pratt’s family farm in Dixon, Ill., as part of the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Adopt-a-Classroom program.   

Farmers explain farming, the food system to students 

For the past 10 years, Illinois farmer Katie Pratt has had a lot of pen pals. She has sent numerous letters, videos and photos demystifying the agricultural industry to youngsters living in the Chicago area.

Pratt participates in the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Adopt-a-Classroom program, which matches Chicago classrooms with farmers from across the state. She provides regular correspondence to the fourth graders at St. Vincent Ferrer School in River Forest, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

"Over the years, I’ve discovered how important it is to connect with students, as well as their teachers and parents," she says. "Being involved in Adopt-a-Classroom has helped me realize how much misinformation is out there and how far removed people are from food production."

Pratt provides farm updates and answers questions. "The students are always curious about farm work, how hard we work, and if we like to work," she says.

students milking goat

Sarah Fine-Koukol, the fourth grade teacher matched with Pratt, says her students now understand agriculture better. "Some kids just do not know where food items originate. They should know where these items start."

Pratt and her family have visited the school and hosted students at their Dixon, Ill., farm. At the farm, the children saw livestock and farm machinery. "These kids don’t often have the opportunity to just run in an open space. Their reac­tion makes me grateful for our life on the farm."

The students milked a goat during the visit—a major highlight. "It served as a science lesson to talk about mammals, and also a life lesson to have that experience that most kids, especially city kids, do not get," says Fine-Koukol.

Get Involved. Kevin Daugherty, Illinois Farm Bureau’s education director, says that in addition to farmers, some county Farm Bureau groups and even 4-H clubs will volunteer to correspond with classrooms. "It provides a great oppor­tunity to connect farmers with a non-farm audience."

Illinois is just one of the state Farm Bureaus with such a  program. In Nebraska, it is known as the Ag Pen Pal program. Bailey Kobs, the program’s assistant, says the project has been in place for several decades, and currently 270 farmers from across the state are linked up with classrooms.

students at farm

Kobs says the Nebraska program focuses on schools in the state’s larger cities but the program also has a place in the more remote schools. "Just because a school is in a rural area doesn’t mean the students understand farming."

If you are interested in becoming a classroom farm writer, contact your state’s Farm Bureau. Many states have classrooms waiting to be matched with a pen pal. 

You can e-mail Sara Schafer at

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - September 2013

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