By Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal
On a steamy day in July, nearly one dozen teachers file into a room at the Moville Community Center. This particular day of their summer "vacation" is filled with talk about corn, soybeans, wind power soil structure.
This is where the classroom meets the farm, the Sioux City Journal reported.
Melissa Nelson organizes the gathering, one way she's hoping to help solidify the Siouxland Agriculture in the Classroom program she oversees as agriculture education specialist.
Too many students, it appears, believe milk grows at the grocery store. Too many students, and, perhaps, adults, in Siouxland, believe corn growing in fields from Onawa to Ocheyedan is for direct human consumption, as in off-the-cob.
Nelson, a native of Springfield, Nebraska, works to bridge such gaps.
"My mission is to promote agriculture to teachers," says Nelson, whose program and position is funded, in part, by Iowa Farm Bureau units in Woodbury, Plymouth, Sioux, Ida and Cherokee counties. Contributions from Farm Bureau members and corporate concerns help keep Nelson on the road, visiting classrooms to spread the word about agriculture and what it means to our families and communities.
"The average person is now two to three times removed from a farm," says Nelson, who raised corn, soybeans and angus beef on the family farm before heading to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln to study agriculture leadership, education and communication. "I'm trying to get teachers excited about ag education and show kids where food comes from. There's a huge disconnect."
Nelson visits northwest Iowa classrooms at least once per week during the academic year. She also helps host field trips to places like Plymouth County Dairy. She helped arrange a visit by 300 children, who stopped by the Woodbury County Fairgrounds in Moville to visit with 4-H members, who gave tips on livestock handling, project-based learning and more.
"We do pen-pals with farmers and we have Farm Chats, where a farmer will, through an iPad, show us how a farm operates," Nelson says. "That way, students can be visiting a farm without even leaving the classroom."
The workshop for teachers that Nelson presided over in Moville was called "Using Ag to Teach Concepts and Skills." Members of the Iowa Ag Literacy Foundation assisted with the conference.
"I think this is outstanding," says Dee McKenna, a parent and volunteer serving the Lawton-Bronson Community School District. "I'm very excited to see teachers have this kind of research within their reach. Melissa has a lot to share that the teachers may not have access to."
McKenna, who works for a program called Nutrients for Life, shared with teachers portions of a soils curriculum that can be implemented by a range of educators, from elemetary to high school.
"I grew up so close to Omaha and saw the disconnect of kids who did not know what we did on the farm," Nelson says. "That sparked my passion for this."
Nineteen months ago, Nelson's position didn't exist. She met with leaders of the Woodbury County Farm Bureau and asked, "How can I help you?"
The local entity agreed to fund her position for one year. During that span, four other Farm Bureau agencies have joined the effort, allowing Nelson to connect farm life and farm work with more than 6,000 students.
"I cover 64 elementary schools in five counties," says the 24-year-old. "It's hard to get over the hump to say how important this message is. That is the challenge."
She need not sell McKenna on the virtues of Siouxland Agriculture in the Classroom.
"The whole organization is very knowledgeable about matching agriculture to current teacher standards," says McKenna, the mother of three Lawton-Bronson students. "As a parent, I'm excited our teachers are choosing to connect with her and bring her into the classroom."