Califonia Bountiful

Judy Honerkamp

5th Grade Teacher
Bauer Speck Arts Magnet Elementary School
San Luis Obispo County

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

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
In 1994, a colleague handed me a brochure for the California AITC Conference in San Luis Obispo. I attended and came home with resources, materials, and overwhelming enthusiasm to share my personal knowledge and experiences in agriculture. I felt that I was given permission to give students my background knowledge acquired through my family roots.

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
My second grade teacher, Mrs. Peasley, taught us the concept of evaporation by boiling water on a hot plate. We made rock books and illustrated the types of clouds with cotton. We touched our lessons through memorable hands-on activities. I loved school and I loved learning. That year, I decided to become a teacher just like Mrs. Peasley. For the past 29 years as an elementary school teacher I have aspired to present meaningful learning experiences to my students and instill in them a lifelong desire for learning.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
I have attended at least a dozen CFAITC state conferences and have always come home with a trunk full of agriculture-related materials to use in my classroom and share with my colleagues. The field trips, presentations, Make 'n' Take sessions, locations, and the accommodations are always first class. Attending the conference is interesting and a wonderful opportunity to meet and connect with other teachers from throughout the state as well as agriculture-industry people. Most importantly, at the state conference—in fact attending any AITC event—I feel appreciated, important, and valued as an educator.

There are so many AITC resources I use annually in my classroom lessons: The commodity fact sheets, the resource guide, What's Growin' On? newspaper, standards-based units and lessons, agriculture-related literature, Cream of the Crop newsletter, and garden-based information.

Has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
Growing up in farming and ranching I learned the value of hard work and responsibility. Our daily chores were life skills/lessons of endurance, courage, and perseverance. Farm/ranch life was not glamorous; it was hard work. I find students of today lacking basic values and a good work ethic in addition to fundamental background knowledge.

As I became involved in AITC I realized I could provide non-farm students farm experiences through school agriculture-based lessons. It became my passion to spread the awareness and appreciation of agriculture through my school and community projects. My contribution allowed students to experience farm/ranch life through my lessons and activities.

When attending our annual Agriculture Day at Bauer Speck School, and the county-wide Great AGventure, students participate in "agtivities" such as collecting eggs, stacking hay, quilting, roping, milking, making butter, picking cotton, and planting seeds. Students enjoy hands-on agriculture experiences through fun activities as they are exposed to the fundamental agricultural values and information.

When students work in our school garden they realize where their food comes from as they plant, maintain, harvest, and take pride in their gardening accomplishments. They also learn to rake leaves, dig with a shovel, and push a wheel barrow—life skills they don't experience at home.

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
My parents valued education and instilled that value in my siblings and me. School was a priority and we attended daily no matter what. I worked hard to pay for the majority of my college education and graduated with a teaching credential. One of the biggest challenges I face as a teacher today is to influence students and teach them the value of education and instill in them an understanding and desire to be lifelong learners.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
I was four or five years old when my grandparents sold their farm and moved to town. To occupy his time, our grandfather planted a huge vegetable garden. I remember PopPop taking my siblings and me into the garden. He would pull carrots out of the ground and we would eat them right then and there. It was amazing to us!

We grew carrots in our school garden. When it was time to harvest students pulled up the carrots and ate them right there in the garden. My students relished in the fact that they had planted, cared for, harvested, and were now eating vegetables from the soil. I relished in the fact that another personal life farm experience had been brought to town school kids.

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
My current project is coordinating our school garden program. I have the opportunity to teach third, fourth, and fifth graders standards-based lessons in our outdoor garden classroom. Students maintain the garden: tilling the soil, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting. Harvested produce is served to the student body in the lunch salad bar. Fourth and fifth graders collect food waste from the cafeteria and feed the garden worms. Our annual Mother's Day Garden Sale brings in enough funds to pay our water bill and other expenses allowing our garden project to be self-sustaining.

Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
Agriculture information can be easily incorporated into lessons already in place. Many lessons in current school curriculum present agriculture-related topics. The key is making the connections and taking the extra time to emphasize the agriculture when presenting the lessons to students.

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today's society?
Agriculture is the basis of life. Students must be made aware of this fact and be shown the vital role agriculture plays in our lives every day. Today's students will be tomorrow's leaders. Our role as educators is to prepare these students to become conscientious productive members of our society and the world.

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