By Wendy Sweeter
Four years ago Ag United for South Dakota started its Adopt-A-Farmer program. Through the program, producers share their knowledge of agriculture with third and fourth graders throughout the state.
It's turned into a big hit for agriculture.
Jim Petrik, a hog and cow/calf producer from Gayville, S.D., a participant from the start, says being adopted by students is a great opportunity to share his experience as a farmer.
"I think it's really important to let them get the chance to meet a farmer and let them understand that we really care about our animals," Petrik says.
This year six producers are reaching more than 850 students in grades two through five in 19 schools across the state.
Producers record monthly videos about what is going on on their farm that particular month. Then they visit their adopted classroom at least once during the year.
Cheryl Prunty, a fourth grade teacher at West Central Elementary in Humboldt, S.D., for 21 years, knows the importance of teaching kids about agriculture. She grew up on a farm and currently farms with her husband and son.
"Only a handful of my students each year are familiar with modern agriculture. I look for ways to talk about agriculture and farming with my students," Prunty says.
For the first three years of the program, Prunty had Volga, S.D., dairy producer Ginger Post. Post and her husband, along with their three children milk cows. Post recently added a town job to her responsibilities so she has cut back to only adopting the fourth grade classrooms in Clear Lake, S.D.
Post says it is important to participate in the Adopt-A-Farmer program since most kids today are two or three generations removed from the farm.
"A lot of people don't understand that's a large farming operation can still be family owned. It doesn't change the fact that the farmer still loves his animals and protects his land and his neighbors," Post says.
Cindy Teer, a second grade teacher at Lowell Elementary in Sioux Falls, who has been teaching for 24 years, got started with the program last year. Most of her students are inner city and come from the lower social and economic tier.
"We really discovered a lot of things like everything around us has to do with agriculture," Teer says. "I think the kids were so amazed with that, not being out on the farm, not knowing there's farms just a few miles away from Sioux Falls. It's not hundreds of miles away."
Both Teer and Prunty say the videos have worked well into their classroom curriculum and the Common Core Standards. Their students work on preparing and asking questions, finding research materials and write letters.
"I think with the Common Core Standards and the thinking skills that are part of that, the program has already been doing this in my class for years now," Prunty says. "It's real world scenarios, it's real world problems. It teaches the kids outside of the classroom walls without costing us a field trip."
Teer appreciates that her farmer, Heidi Selken of Colton, S.D., brings what they do on the farm down to her students' level.
"It was really interesting that they brought it down to our level. It just benefitted the kids so much knowing that agriculture is here in our neighborhood," Teer says.
"I think that the farmers enjoy it as much as the kids and the teachers do," Kelly Nelson, former outreach director for Ag United.. "They want to share their story and they want others to understand what they do and why. I think this has been a great outlet for producers to do that."
Sweeter is from Worthing, S.D.