Califonia Bountiful

Guest Commentary: Growing at the elementary school farm

Sept./Oct. 2011 California Country magazine

Wyatt Wilkerson is a user experience designer who studies human behavior around phones and technology. He lives in La Jolla.

I am fortunate to be able to credit the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom as a major contributor to my education, as well as making me a generally well-rounded 25-year-old. I grew up in Valley Center in northeastern San Diego County. It's a sprawling suburban community with only one small town center and is very agriculturally based. My drive to school every morning had me pass by egg ranches, farms, a dairy and many orchards within the town.

Agriculture surrounded me on a daily basis, but my agricultural education did not really begin until I started working on the farm in grade school. I was 12 years old, in Cathey Anderson's fifth-grade class at the Valley Center Upper Elementary School.

Mrs. Anderson is well-known for her fondness for incorporating agriculture into her curriculum and for her involvement in the California Foundation for Agri­culture in the Classroom, which supports ag-literacy efforts that benefit students throughout the state.

Cathey Anderson is Agriculture in the Classroom's 2004 Outstanding Educator of the Year for both California and the nation. She is currently president of the San Diego Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation.

My school in Valley Center had farmland adjacent to the campus, and Mrs. Anderson would lead our class over a few times a week to learn about and work on the farm. We would feed the sheep, pigs and chickens and clean their pens, sort and package eggs, tend to the raised gardens and even turn the compost pile. In hindsight, it was quite an operation for fifth-graders, but these experiences taught me the responsibility and joy in watching something grow.

Although my current profession does not tie directly to agriculture, I am thankful for my experience at that grade school farm. I still buy Valley Center eggs at the grocery store and other food from local growers, and I try to stay mindful of issues that are important in my home community.

Many thanks to my teacher, Mrs. Anderson, and all of the teachers out there like her, who see the importance in connecting their students to the true-life experiences that can only be provided in a setting such as a school farm or garden. You really are reaching and changing students for the better every day.

Something worth celebrating

We all depend on agriculture—whether for the cotton in our jeans, the food on our tables or the landscaping in our yards. We also will depend on the next generation of decision makers to ensure that agriculture continues to thrive.

That's why the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom is so important—and, in fact, worth celebrating. This year marks the foundation's 25th anniversary. From its inception in 1986, this California Farm Bureau affiliate has helped students and teachers across the state gain an understanding of how agriculture provides the essentials for everyday life.

You've already met Wyatt Wilkerson, a young man whose experiences at his elementary school's farm taught him the responsibility and joy of watching something grow. Read testimonials from other people who have helped shape the foundation over its 25 years and have been impacted by its efforts.

For a sampling of the many resources available free to educators and parents, visit the foundation's website or go to:

  • "Imagine this... Stories Inspired by Agriculture": This writing contest promotes reading, writing and the arts and furthers the understanding of agriculture. About 10,000 students in the third through eighth grades write agriculturally themed essays each year for the chance to become a published author.
  • Teacher Resource Guide outlines an array of materials to encourage agricultural literacy.
  • Gardens for Learning: A guidebook that provides a strong foundation to support the growing school garden movement.
  • Garden lesson plans: Based on the demonstration WE Garden at Capitol Park in Sacramento, people of all ages learn from lessons rooted in nutrition, healthy living, agriculture, science, history and service.
  • CROP Circles (California Regions of Optimal Planting): An easy-to-use diagram for planting a school garden.
  • Cream of the Crop E-newsletter: Monthly newsletter with articles about agriculture-related resources, ideas, information and AITC events.
  • Commodity and Natural Resource Fact and Activity Sheets: From alfalfa to walnuts, these sheets present current information on items including the history, production, top producing regions, varieties and economic value.
  • Lesson plans that meet California content standards for kindergarten through 12th-grade students. Examples are "Milk Matters! Discovering Dairy" and "Food Safety from Farm to Fork."


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