Califonia Bountiful

Mandi Bottoms

3rd and 4th Grade Teacher
New Life Homes School
Swaziland, Africa

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 as a pre-service teacher attending Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. We received several units and sets of Agricultural Fact and Activity Sheets in one of my education classes. I had no idea I would end up starting my career with Ag in the Classroom a few years later! In 2008, I was hired as California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom's curriculum coordinator.

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
For the past four years I've had the privilege of working for Ag in the Classroom, serving California students indirectly through teacher trainings, new classroom resources, and other AITC programs. In January 2013, I return to the classroom as a third/fourth grade teacher. My husband and I are moving to Swaziland, Africa to volunteer at a farm that houses and educates 45 orphaned children.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
One of the resources I have developed at AITC is the Teacher Resource Guide. This 200-page resource introduces readers to a wide variety of teacher-approved educational resources listed by topic—everything from air quality to worms. I've found this resource incredibly helpful in identifying free and low-cost lessons and activities I can implement into my classroom.

What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you and how does that impact the way you educate students?  
My experience in Fortuna High School's FFA program, and the influence of my agriculture teacher, Sandy Dale, opened my eyes to the possibility of teaching agriculture as a career. I originally enrolled in the program to boost my resume, since I was planning on attending UC Davis as an animal science major. By the end of my four years in the program, my view of agriculture careers had expanded and I was considering several agriculture careers, including agriculture education.  In FFA, student enterprise projects help students gain knowledge and experience while engaging in an agricultural enterprise (such as raising animals, working for a greenhouse, or harvesting and selling walnuts). As a student and as a teacher, I saw immense value in participating in these opportunities. I hope to offer similar opportunities for some of the older children at New Life Homes—opportunities to generate their own income through raising native chickens, caring for a dairy goat, or selling vegetable transplants in the neighboring village.

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.  
During my time at Ag in the Classroom, I have worked with some of the most talented teachers across the state. Many of you have volunteered your time to write, revise, review, and pilot-test curriculum. These opportunities for collaboration have been such a source of joy in my career. I have been inspired by the passion and dedication of so many of you. I get to work with teachers as excited about sheep, avocados, and compost as I am!

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
"I want to produce food for myself; I don't want to depend on someone else to provide for me." This was a comment shared by one of the older girls I worked with in an afterschool "garden club" setting. We had just finished harvesting an abundant crop of broccoli and the children were celebrating by eating it by the fistfuls! In that moment, I finally realized how agriculture can truly impact the lives of students—it has the power to impact their competence, confidence, and role within their community. It was powerful!

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
This month AITC published our new STEM curriculum. I am really proud of this resource for teachers. Not only does it help students better understand the significance of animal agriculture; it also provides teachers with engaging lessons that reinforce science, technology, engineering, and math. Although we are still waiting for a final version of the Next Generation Science Standards, I am confident this curriculum (which was developed using the National Science Framework as a guide) will provide ample teaching opportunities to reinforce these new standards.

Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
Agriculture can be included in every subject and still meet the rigorous standards in today's classroom. Don't give up! High school students can learn chemistry concepts by investigating plant nutrient requirements of vegetable crops and elementary students can learn life sciences by comparing and contrasting livestock digestive systems. Ag in the Classroom provides a diverse array of materials that really can help teachers implement agriculture into the classroom.

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today's society?  
The first time I traveled to Swaziland was in 2006. I was profoundly impacted by the significance of agriculture in the lives of the people there. Agricultural education is truly a means of survival. Teaching children about gardens helps ensure they will be able to provide healthy food for themselves and their families in the future. Here in California, learning about agriculture enhances students' educational experiences. However, because of the abundant low-cost food produced in this state, few people will ever fully depend on their own ability to produce food. Teaching agriculture in Swaziland impacts the students' learning experiences and increases their likelihood to feed themselves.

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