Califonia Bountiful

Maureen Tolson

7th and 8th Grade Teacher
Lompoc Valley Middle School
Santa Barbara County

This interview was originally published on CFAITC's blog, "The Fencepost."

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I first learned about Ag in the Classroom when a flyer was posted at school regarding the Summer Ag Institute in Sacramento. I applied and was honored to be accepted as a member of Class VI. The Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau sponsored me and we had a great class and an amazing week.

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
Truth be told, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved home economics and physical education, however, and chose those subjects for my major and minor.

I have been teaching at Lompoc Valley Middle School for about 30 years. The first 15 years I taught Spanish. The last 15 years I have been teaching home economics careers and technology/consumer and family studies.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
It would be difficult to choose a favorite. I loved the Summer Ag Institute and our graduate reunions. I also really enjoy the annual conference. (My husband used to attend with me and it really opened his eyes, coming from Washington, D.C.) I have been privileged to work on developing the "What's Growin' On?" student newspapers and have thoroughly enjoyed the writing process.

Another highlight was when Debbie Isbell, from Santa Maria, and I did workshops for the annual conference. We had a blast! I have enjoyed bringing new teachers to AITC events. Those are always "golden moments" for me.

What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you?
I was surrounded by agriculture growing up in Santa Clara Valley. Many of my relatives, including my grandparents, were orchardists. Everyone was a steward of the land and we grew up knowing that we should take good care of whatever ground we had. We always had vegetables and fruit growing in the garden and my grandparents next door had chickens and an orchard. Ag in the Classroom has deepened and expanded my agriculture knowledge and experience. There are so many people willing to share their expertise, you can't help get excited about what they have to teach us.

Has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
Agriculture has continued to impact the way I educate students. I love sharing information and hands-on activities. We are a largely agricultural area here. Vandenberg Air Force Base is a major employer. Many students have no knowledge of what is grown here and what it takes to get it to market. Our major crops include flowers, artichokes, asparagus, lettuces, broccoli, celery, pinquito beans and lima beans. There is a dairy at the prison and vineyards have exploded within the area because the climate is perfect for many varieties of winegrapes. Many students have a very limited food variety experience so I like to have them taste new foods, especially vegetables. When we travel, we play "name the crops" along the way.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
A few years ago we received a garden grant from the Santa Maria Valley Chapter of California Women for Agriculture (CWA). We were able to establish a flower and herb garden, and then a flower and vegetable garden. The students planted chayote and pumpkins. The gardens grew wonderfully and the students were excited when they came back to school in the fall to see how everything had grown! They weighed the pumpkins in the nurse's office and the chayote had grown onto the fence and we had birds—it was wonderful.

Two years ago this November, however, someone on our campus didn't like our beautiful habitat and poured or sprayed something on everything and killed the garden. We were devastated, to say the least. The students did not understand how someone could be so cruel. With all the rain we had last year, it was a full year before we even got weeds. This fall we planted in barrels and have calendulas everywhere.

So far this year, we have harvested lettuce, peas, and beets and the pumpkin seeds are sprouting in the barrels. We also have a new chayote that is disguised in the calendulas and is planted so it won't climb the fence. The students really enjoy working in the garden.

Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
My advice would be to start slowly, perhaps a commodity a month, or focus on your local commodities. Also, materials can always be adapted up or down depending on the grade level; don't pass by some really great curriculum because it is not "marked" for your grade. Talk with other teachers; they are always willing to share, help, and encourage.

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today's society?
I believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware because it will give them a greater understanding of where our food and fiber comes from, and how hard people work to grow it for us. I hope it will also make them good stewards of the land. As a result, some may also choose an agriculture-related career.

These children will one day be making decisions as voters and they need to understand the importance of agriculture to all of us. As the CWA PSA says, "if you eat food and wear clothes, you are involved in agriculture."

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