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Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom continues its 40-year mission to grow agricultural literacy.

Jennifer M. Latzke

March 3, 2023

4 Min Read
Preschool girl with sensory play bin
LEARNING: For more than 40 years, the mission of Agriculture in the Classroom has been to bring agricultural literacy to students using age-appropriate materials and learning methods. This mission is needed now more than ever, and you can help.Igishevamaria/Getty images

It was 1981, and already it was clear that U.S. children were growing up without the family roots in agriculture that previous generations had known. Families had moved to cities for economic opportunities, leaving the generational knowledge of where food comes from behind on abandoned farmsteads.

All those times where parents reinforced math lessons with chores that required calculating feed rations for a pen of hogs — not there. All the mornings naming the colors they could see on the prairie as they checked livestock — gone. All the little moments of practicing their reading and writing on feed sacks in the barn while they helped Dad with chores — poof.

What’s the harm, you ask? It’s not just that connection to their roots that is gone. Children who grow up thinking “farms” are what they read in an E.B. White book or what they see in movies and on television become adult voting consumers who base their decisions on myth and not facts.

And that’s why Agriculture in the Classroom is as important today as it was 40 years ago when it was created by a bipartisan task force and the USDA.

Ag in Classroom mission

Full disclosure: I’m on the board of directors for the Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, an affiliate of the National Agriculture in the Classroom organization. It’s someplace I believe can make a real difference in improving students’ (and, frankly, parents’ and teachers’ as well) “agricultural literacy.” If I didn’t believe in the mission, I wouldn’t be donating my time.

Some of you may be familiar with KFAC already. You may belong to one of the many Kansas farmer and commodity organizations that donate time and money to KFAC. You may have volunteered to speak to classes or taken a shift at Agriland at the Kansas State Fair. You might have used KFAC teaching materials and lessons in your classrooms. You might even sport a Kansas Agri-Tag license plate on your vehicle, supporting KFAC with a donation.

If you’ve ever had a chance to interact with KFAC in the past, I want to thank you. Your contributions, great and small, have made such a difference in the mission over the past 40 years.

But the mission continues.

Agricultural literacy

The goal of KFAC and other state Agriculture in the Classroom organizations is “agricultural literacy” in grades K-12. Now, 40 years ago that looked like coloring pages, farm field trips, and maybe a local farmer or farmwife coming to the classroom to show baby animals and plant sunflower seeds in plastic foam cups on Kansas Day. Those were — and still are — valid activities that are good for students to learn about and explore agriculture.

But those activities relied on some realities of the past.

For starters, farmwives had more time to volunteer in the schools back then. Today, many farm families don’t have a lot of time to spare for volunteer activities like their parents once had.

Second, teachers had more leeway in structuring their classes and lesson plans. Teachers also didn’t have so much turnover and could develop a familiarity with KFAC programs over time.

And, students back then were, shall we say, less sophisticated consumers of media? With the rise of digital tools in the classroom, and at home, KFAC has also had to evolve delivery methods for learning. For example, check out the Virtual Agriland at ksagclassroom.org/resource/agriland, with online resources for K-12 students and their teachers.

Today’s needs

The KFAC of today still uses experienced educators on our Curriculum Advisory Committee to ensure every resource it provides teachers meet state educational standards. It still relies on dedicated volunteers to help its small staff to provide materials and programming to schools. And it is still funded by donations from individuals, businesses and organizations that see the need for agricultural literacy in our youth.

But KFAC could always use your help.

  1. Reach out to school districts and tell them about KFAC. Despite its 40-year reputation, some teachers may not have heard about the free resources KFAC provides. Visit the KFAC Education Center page, ksagclassroom.org/edu, to get started.

  2. Volunteer your time. KFAC has a wide range of volunteer opportunities that match your time availability. Email [email protected], or call 785-320-4350.

  3. Become a donor. If you’re already giving, thank you. But see if your employer is a donor. Check if your community group is donating. Consider buying an Agri-Tag for your next vehicle license plate.

Together, we can improve the agricultural literacy of our youth. One lesson at a time, we can help them connect to our state’s agricultural past, present and future.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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