Thursday, June 7, 2012

Farmer Sarah Visits Fourth Grade

I recently received a letter from my nephew, "B-Man", asking our family to buy magazines to support his classroom.  Any farmer knows that we get A LOT of magazines already :) , so I thought I could do something even better for B-Man's class.

When I learned that fourth graders in North Dakota are required to have a "North Dakota studies" unit and that within that there is a requirement for "agriculture studies", I was excited.  I was even more excited when I realized that my nephew, B-man, is in the fourth grade here in Jamestown! 

One phone call to the school got me connected to the principal and then directly to B-Man's teacher, "Mrs. F".  She was surprised that I was even interested in presenting to his class, and quickly invited me to visit and shared with me the standards she is expected to teach the "agriculture studies" unit. 

WOW.  Good thing I have friends in education and connections with Farm Bureau and all their fantastic educational resources!

I knew if what I taught could conform to these standards, it would be a win-win, after all, Mrs. F, like all teachers, is super-busy trying to meet all of the required standards already and I didn't want to waste any of her precious classroom time.

I wrote up an outline (below) of what I had prepared, and matched the information I planned to present to each of the standards and tailored my presentation to our family's story. Oh, and I only had 45 minutes, so I had to keep it pretty concise. Having handouts from the North Dakota Farm Bureau and ND Dept of Agriculture was helpful as well.

4.2.7 Explain the significance of agriculture in North Dakota history (e.g., immigration, railroads):

- (Show world map) The Frederickson family (B-Man's Great Great Great Grandfather and his three brothers came from Copenhagen, Denmark to farm in Kensal, North Dakota. Today, Danes are still immigrating to the Dakota’s for opportunities in agriculture.

- (Show US Map) The Wilson family (10 generations ago) came from England to farm in Pennsylvania and eventually moved to Indiana, then Kansas, then South Dakota, back to Kansas, then North Dakota.  From Kansas to North Dakota, the farm supplies and horses were moved by train.

4.2.11 Describe the effects of changes in industry, agriculture, and technology in North Dakota (e.g., energy production, transportation, farming methods):

- (Show world map) Global trade has had a tremendous effect on agriculture in North Dakota. The traditional commodities (corn, soybeans, wheat) we grow here now go around the world, or are processed and end up in a variety of products, while some, like pinto beans, are minimally processed and go almost directly to the consumer.  Also, the advent of the ethanol market has increased the demand for corn, and the biodiesel market has increased demand for soybeans, and animal agriculture is also interested in both of those crops and the byproducts of both fuel manufacturing processes.  The increases in efficiencies in agriculture, especially in North Dakota, have afforded our state and our nation an incredible opportunity to prosper.

4.3.2 Identify ways that natural resources (e.g., soil, minerals, trees, fish, people) contribute to the economy of the local community and North Dakota:

      - Discuss economic impact of agriculture. See handouts.

- Discuss ag land use for hunting and the positive indirect impact to our local economy that farmers/ranchers provide.

4.3.4 Identify principal exports of North Dakota (e.g., crops, energy, livestock):

      - I discussed how our crops leave our farm and how they go by  truck, train, barge, etc. around the world.

4.5.4 Explain how the physical environment (e.g., rainfall, climate, natural hazards) affects human activity in North Dakota:

- The environment and climate in North Dakota affects the choices of the crops we grow. Weather throughout the growing season, including hail, rainfall, drought, pests, etc. define the success of each year’s crop. We are fortunate in the United States to have access to genetically modified crops (or GMO’s) because we can choose drought or pest-resistant varieties.  This is so important, because there are only 988 farmers in Stutsman County and we are each responsible for feeding hundreds of people.

- Tornadoes and other natural hazards have destroyed or affected farm buildings and homes over the years as well. Bill Wilson (B-Man’s Great-grandfather) survived a tornado that hit the Wilson farm in the 1920’s.

4.5.5 Identify different patterns of land use in North Dakota(e.g., land use in urban, suburban, and rural areas, mining, agriculture, manufacturing):

- In the rural areas, with regards to agriculture, we have transitioned from tillage to a minimal or no-tillage system.  This has greatly increased our soil health.  We are finding more of, and a greater variety of, microbes in the soil, and earthworms.  Our soil has higher organic matter levels and no tillage decreased our cost of production on our farm.

4.5.6 Describe ways geography has affected the development (e.g., the development of transportation, communication, industry, and land use) of the state over time:

- Location near an urban center (Jamestown) influenced the Wilson’s family decision to milk cows and bottle and sell their own milk in the 1920’s.

4.6.1 Explain how background and history influence people's actions (e.g., farming methods, hunting methods, economic decisions):

-Agriculture always has been, and probably always will be based on “supply-demand economics”. See example with cereal boxes.

- We were fortunate to have B-Man’s Grandpa (Bill) Wilson with us for 91 years.  We often asked him about the history of the farm, including economic conditions of society as a whole, weather patterns, purchasing decision and crop decisions he made over the years. Having access to generations of knowledge of our land has been such an important resource. Of course, we’d rather learn from the lessons of the past and repeat their successes, instead of failures.

4.6.2 Explain the contributions of various ethnic groups (e.g., Native Americans, immigrants) to the history of North Dakota (e.g., food, traditions, languages, celebrations):

- Many of the foods we enjoy today came from the farm families that immigrated here.  In some areas in North Dakota, some families still speak German or have a strong German accent.  We still enjoy some of the native Danish and German dishes at our holiday family meals.

Some of the fun "visuals" I took included:

-Photos of our farm throughout the last century.
- A bucket full of household items. I had the students guess which animal the products came form. (You can get the brochure "When Is a Cow More Than a Cow?" from the ND Beef Commission that shows some of the over 1,000 products that come from cattle).
- Models of farm equipment through the years- from a horse to a modern tractor.

- I read the book "Mini Milkmaids on the Moove" that was written by my friend, Rebecca Long Chaney.

There was also a quick lesson in supply-demand economics. - which is how markets for agricultural products (like the corn, wheat, and soybeans we grow) function.  When I was planning my lessons, I noticed that my dear husband had brought home ELEVEN boxes of cereal from the store.  Note: This is what happens when a hungry farmer goes grocery shopping for "just a few things" :)  So I put those boxes to good use :)

I asked B-Man, if he were in a grocery store, how many boxes of cereal he would buy.  He said "one".

He said he was ready for what was next, so I started piling :)  B-Man is pretty tough- so he was able to hold 8 boxes!  I asked the class if they thought they thought B-Man would pay more or less for the boxes of cereal now, remembering that B-Man only wanted one.  They answered "LESS!"

I asked them to think about if they went to the grocery store and they all wanted cereal, but there was only ONE box left in the whole aisle.  They answered "MORE!"

B-Man was such a great sport and he got to pick his favorite box of cereal and take it home with him :)  The kids were AMAZED when they found out that each and every day we keep track of how crops are growing all around the world and how crops grown in Brazil or Australia could affect the price of crops grown in the United States.  That's global supply and demand economics.  They were even more surprised to learn that I really know farmers in other countries. 

Then, the last question of the day was the best..."Are you a professional?" I smiled, "Why yes, I'm a professional" :) 

You see, I did this presentation not just to teach the kids about farming and where their food comes from, but to help them learn to respect farmers and appreciate all that we in agriculture provide.

The most wonderful part of my trip to the 4th grade was that the ONE young lady (yes, even in rural North Dakota, just ONE) in the class that had farm experience was able to proudly share HER experiences with her class and I saw her classmates develop a new-found respect for her.

Once upon a time, I was a little girl that other kids made fun of. They called me a "dumb farmer" and that is something I will never forget.

Today, I know that this one class in this one school knows that farmers are professionals.  This was well worth the hour and a half I took out of my day to visit 4th grade :)

Many THANKS to Mrs. F for being such a great teacher and for giving me this opportunity!

Thanks for stopping by,
Sarah :)

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