Califonia Bountiful

Susie Calhoun

1st Grade Teacher
Oakwood Elementary School
Stockton, CA

This interview was originally published in the May 2011 issue of CFAITC's e-newsletter, "Cream of the Crop."

How long have you been teaching or working with students?
I have been a credentialed teacher since 1986, teaching for Fremont Unified for 13 years and now with Lodi Unified for 11 years. I have also had a variety of other jobs including working for Stony Ridge Winery and Concannon Vineyard in Livermore, food server, my summer job at the Alameda County Fair and helping publish my family's cookbook.

Why did you choose to become an educator?
I became a teacher because it is fascinating to me to watch children learn. I have worked with children from six months through 18 years old and prefer the younger students.

When and how did you become involved with Ag in the Classroom?
I was raised in Livermore, and spent many days of my youth on my grandparents' ranch. My grandparents were members of the Alameda County Farm Bureau and each summer would take their grandchildren to the annual picnic. The Holm family ranch is still a small working cattle ranch.

San Francisco Farm Day 1981. From left: Nancy Calhoun Mueller, Susie Calhoun, John Banke, Merry Calhoun Carter.

In 1979 I returned from college and lived on the ranch. I became a member of the Alameda County Young Farmers and Ranchers. Our cousin was a member of the Yolo County YF&R, which broadened our circle. It was through YF&R that I became a part of San Francisco Farm Day in the city.

Tell us more about your experience at San Francisco Farm Day.
I first participated in Farm Day in 1981. I recall the excitement among our group as we loaded up the animals. Listening to Ag in the Classroom’s Mark Linder on a San Francisco radio station speaking about the day as we drove across the Bay Bridge in commuter traffic was just the beginning. We visited two schools—one was a newer school, another older—both with very limited space for the children and the visiting animals. Here were children in an "urban jungle," many who had never seen a farm animal. One campus we visited had a playground, which was all asphalt—about the size of several basketball courts. We were providing these students an opportunity to touch, smell, and ask questions about the animals. The excitement as we drove onto the campuses was in the air—at one school the students began chanting as we pulled onto their playground. We did this for several years. Farm Bureau and ag education has been a very important part of my life.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
AITC offers so many valuable programs that it is hard to say which is the most valuable. I look forward to receiving my Cream of the Crop via email. Ag Venture in San Joaquin County is an important opportunity for many third-graders to experience the diversity of agriculture. This educational experience reaches so many students. Making it so accessible to the students by providing the transportation, at no cost, and very little planning for the teacher is critical to its success. The students always return with their plants and a wealth of information. It is an impressive amount of coordination, dedication and volunteerism to provide this opportunity to the students of San Joaquin County.

From left: Whitney Carter, Kelsie Foster, Susie Calhoun, Laina Carter.

Tell us about one way you educate your first-graders about agriculture.
Beckman School in Lodi has a school garden that was sponsored by the local Lions Club. There were raised beds full of pumpkins, tomatoes, red onions, and sunflowers. Though we had not planted the vegetables, a break was upon us and the vegetables had to be harvested. As I walked my first-grade students into the garden, they screamed with delight at the sight of the pumpkins and tomatoes. It sounded like they were on a televised game show! Each student was able to pick several tomatoes. We only got one pumpkin, which we raffled off. In the spring we had the opportunity to plant our own tomato plants. Unfortunately, I was assigned to another school and missed the harvest, but I know the students that remained at the school enjoyed watching them grow and getting to eat them when they ripened. I will always hear their voices from that day.

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