25 May

In just one word, can you name the “parent” shared by these three “relatives”?
• A pharmacy packed with various medications
• A scenic river valley teeming with wildlife
• A grocery store cooler stacked with milk cartons

Did you identify the parent as “agriculture?”

If not, you’re not alone. You have plenty of company—too much company, according to Mary Beth Bennett, founder of the West Virginia Summer Agricultural Institute, a hands-on in-service she initiated in 1997 for elementary schoolteachers.

Ten years later, the institute continues to be sponsored by the WVU Extension Service and West Virginia Farm Bureau Foundation.

Learn and Then Protect
Dr. Bennett’s personal mission continues to be the same: help children and adults realize that “agriculture” is the answer for many of their daily needs. However, her mission isn’t motivated simply because she enjoys working in agriculture. Her enthusiastic commitment is driven by a simple fact: People can’t protect what they don’t understand.

“In the United States, especially in rapidly urbanizing areas, we are trying to get people to preserve green space,” Dr. Bennett said, ”...but people don’t understand that farmers are the primary preservers of green space.”

A West Virginia University Extension agent based in Berkeley County, Dr. Bennett laments that consumers don’t understand that land and food are related issues … issues with vital links to every person’s well-being: medicines, clothes, food, jobs, building materials, and more.

“Today, children do not understand how a cow is connected to the milk they are putting on their cereal. In the same way,” she said, “they do not understand how the cereal is connected to the wheat they may see growing in a field. They don’t know how fiber production is connected to the clothes they wear.”

What children don’t know today could lead them as future voters—98 percent of whom will not work on farms—to make decisions that jeopardize the scenic attractions of their tourism economy and the abundance of their efficient food and fiber production (and employment) systems.

People, Dr. Bennett believes, must start “understanding the interconnectedness of all things.”

It’s All in Ag
Revealing many of those connections are WVU Extension educators and other experts, who guide teachers through practical, hands-on applications for elementary classroom math, science, reading, writing, and social sciences.

Teachers take home free innovative materials to incorporate the world of agriculture into their lesson plans, which are matched to the West Virginia Content, Standards and Objectives (CSOs) Policies.

According to the West Virginia Department of Education, these policies provide a focus for teachers to teach and students to learn skills and competencies essential for future success in the workplace and in further education.

The institute enlarges and enhances the national Agriculture in the Classroom curriculum, which encourages educators to teach students about the food and fiber system in the United States and the role of agriculture in the country’s economy and society.

In-class experiments and lectures at West Virginia University are supplemented with excursions to production sites. Over the years, classes have visited poultry facilities, paper mills, dairy farms, fisheries, agricultural research stations and greenhouses.

As students themselves, Ag Institute students may register to receive professional development credit or three hours of graduate credit.

Teachers Keep Returning
Since the content of the program changes each year, participants in previous Summer Agriculture Institute sessions are eligible to enroll in subsequent years.

And teachers do return.

“This is the best institute I have ever attended,” one pleased teacher reported. “There are so many ideas that we can use! I can hardly wait to use these, beginning with introducing activities for the first week of school. I can’t remember any other time during my 22 years of teaching that I have as many practical and easy ideas to use…”