Califonia Bountiful

Imagine this... Agriculture as inspiration

July/August 2014 California Bountiful magazine

More online: Meet the authors and illustrators

Cotton, cattle, strawberries, water and a tractor: The topics of the 20th annual "Imagine this…" Story Writing Contest reflect the diversity of California agriculture.

Authors of the winning stories are, from left, Evan Johns, Allyson Wei, Jake Martin, Rose Velasquez, Creed Newton and Morgan Hicks.

The contest, coordinated by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, promotes knowledge about agriculture as well as literacy skills as students select a topic, conduct research and then compose a fiction or nonfiction story.

"Students can explore, discover and retell an agriculture-related story from their unique perspective in a creative, fun and rewarding way," said Judy Culbertson, the foundation's executive director.

Stanislaus County fifth-grade teacher Star Pedron calls "Imagine this..." an "amazing tool."

"California produces so much of the food that's sold in the country—multiple crops, multiple areas," she said. "There's just so much that a lot of kids don't even realize is considered agriculture."

Each year, "Imagine this…" attracts participation of more than 8,000 third- through eighth-grade students throughout the state, including those from urban, suburban and rural schools. It is recognized as an innovative educational tool and supports California's core classroom curriculum, Culbertson said, explaining that teachers don't need any agricultural background because the foundation offers fact sheets and other free resources to help start and guide the research portion.

"The foundation provides what we teachers need to build lesson plans and stir interest among the students," said Clarence Atwater, a seventh-grade teacher in Los Angeles County.

"Imagine this…" rewards regional winners and then one story from each grade is selected as the year's state winners. The winning stories are bound in a book illustrated by high school art, graphic design and photography students. (See Book Reviews) State winners also receive a medal, e-reader, $100 worth of classroom resources and an expense-paid trip to Sacramento with their family and teacher during National Agriculture Week.

"Each year, the six top stories, along with stories receiving honorable mentions, are published and also posted on our website," Culbertson said. "This enables students to help other students learn about agriculture in a creative way."

Joyce Mansfield

Create, learn, enjoy with 'Imagine this…'

Agriculture is all around us—in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the paper we write on and the flowers we enjoy. The "Imagine this…" Story Writing Contest annually invites students to learn more about agriculture and rewards students and their teachers. Entries must be postmarked by Nov. 1.

For details, visit

Meet the authors and illustrators

The Pink Shirt

Jimmy Cotton Plant grows up to be picked, bathed, pulled apart and combed. He chooses a perfect color to be dyed—and is "pink-a-fied." Jimmy is then transformed into a shirt with pockets, sparkles and a heart, and goes home from the store with a little girl who "just loves her special pink shirt." Read the story.

"A lot of people work very, very hard for something that we think … just comes from a store." Rose Velasquez

Author: Rose Velasquez
3rd grade, McSwain Elementary School
Merced County
Teacher: Denise Van Horn

Third-grader Rose Velasquez said she felt confident when writing her award-winning story, "The Pink Shirt." Going to school in Merced County, Rose and her classmates are surrounded by agriculture, and they got a closer look during a field trip to a farm. To help her select a story topic, Rose looked through a newspaper and saw an article on cotton. Her teacher gave her a cotton seed to inspire her, and Rose was ready to write. She said she is excited to have the opportunity to express herself and use her imagination while teaching others about cotton and all that it provides.

Illustrated by: Valley High School
Elk Grove Unified School District
Ane Bogitini, Sylvia Vang and Anthony Alfaro
Art Instructor: Patricia Dismukes

Illustrating "The Pink Shirt" gave Advanced Placement (AP) art seniors Sylvia Vang, Ane Bogitini and Anthony Alfaro the opportunity to reminisce about how they first learned about cotton. Their basic knowledge, and further research, gave the students a great starting point when deciding how to illustrate the story. They worked as a group to develop the storyboard and assigned a task to each person. They researched cotton bolls, harvesting machines and bales to make sure they were illustrated accurately, and then they began drawing. The students used colored pencils for all the illustrations and black pen to outline and add details. Sylvia, Ane and Anthony said they are honored to have had the real-world opportunity to interpret someone else's words and transform them into illustrations.

The Incident

When the family's cows are found out of the pasture and injured from loose barbed wire, Billy helps his dad and the veterinarian treat the animals. Billy then discovers where the cows got out—and that cattle rustlers are responsible. He and his dad call the sheriff, who arrests the criminals. Read the story.

"I learned more about the cows and that sometimes they can be stolen by other people." Evan Johns

Author: Evan Johns
4th grade, Gratton Elementary School
Stanislaus County
Teacher: Pennie Segna

Evan Johns, a fourth-grader from Stanislaus County, grew up around agriculture. Evan's dad is an almond farmer and they spend a lot of time together working on the farm. One project was to fence a pasture so cattle could graze. While doing that and in talking about the responsibilities of raising cattle, Evan got the idea for his story, "The Incident." He got even more ideas when his class studied a unit on agriculture. They read an article about local ranchers having problems with drought and poachers stealing cattle, and had guest speakers who talked about how they help farmers and ranchers. Evan was surprised to learn about the many jobs and people who make farming and ranching possible.

Illustrated by: Woodland High School
Woodland Joint Unified School District
Natalie Melendez, Sadaf Sadiq, Shyanne Yang, Andrea Ramirez, Maridula Sharma and Adriel Randall
Art Instructor: Dawn Abbott

The illustrators of "The Incident" expanded their knowledge of agriculture while researching cattle ranching. The students learned about the many people involved in ranching and some issues ranchers face in different parts of the state. They said they were especially surprised to learn cattle rustling is a current problem. The group of juniors spent time planning and brainstorming to ensure each illustrator had the opportunity to showcase his or her best skills. They worked together to develop the style, make decisions on what the characters would look like and develop a schedule to make sure the illustrations were completed on time. Each person was assigned a role in each illustration. Drawing characters, backgrounds, coloring and shading were all done by individual students and then the group came together to put the final touches on the illustrations. The students said they enjoyed working on the project and are very proud of the illustrations.

Luigi's Pride

Luigi is a blue tractor that loves to help Farmer Bill, especially to plant corn. After a hot day, Luigi dreams the heat turns the newly planted crop into popcorn. The next day, he's relieved to see tiny seedlings have sprouted. They water and care for the corn—and before long it's harvest time. Read the story.

"I learned that corn can be used for fuel for cars and tractors." Jake Martin

Author: Jake Martin
5th grade, Sacred Heart Catholic School
Stanislaus County
Teacher: Star Pedron

Growing up in Stanislaus County, fifth-grader Jake Martin had some knowledge of agriculture. Jake wanted to write about something that interested him, so he focused on tractors and corn. He researched the processes of planting and harvesting and said he was amazed to learn about all of the uses for corn. Jake wanted to make sure his story, "Luigi's Pride," was fun, caught the reader's attention and had good characters because he believes those are the components that make a great story. In his award-winning story, Jake gives readers the opportunity to learn about the process involved in growing corn and the love that Luigi had for this crop.

Illustrated by: Sheldon High School
Elk Grove Unified School District
Madelyn Chan-Yoeun and Sophia Trieu
Art Instructor: Debbie George

Madelyn Chan-Yoeun and Sophia Trieu said they are ecstatic to be published illustrators of "Luigi's Pride." The two AP art students used the "Imagine this…" illustration project as their senior projects. It was the perfect way to showcase their art talents, they said, and through the project, they learned about agriculture. Madelyn and Sophia researched the various tractors and equipment used to grow and harvest corn and they used time management skills to make sure the project was finished on time. These two friends have enjoyed art since they were young and worked on all of the illustrations together. The students used colored pencils and airbrush to illustrate the story with a cartoon-life style. Both Madelyn and Sophia said they hope to continue studying art.

Branding Day on Our Ranch

This fourth-generation rancher's story explains the importance of branding and vaccinating cattle—hard work made easier and more fun with the help of friends and neighbors. All enjoy a big feast after a long day. Read the story.

"I have an ag background … so I decided to think out of the box and go with branding day." Creed Newton

Author: Creed Newton
6th grade, Scott Valley Junior High School
Siskiyou County
Teacher: Tracy Dickinson

Sixth-grader Creed Newton found inspiration for his story, "Branding Day on our Ranch," through his own experiences growing up on a ranch. Creed's favorite part of writing his story was sharing with his readers why ranchers brand and vaccinate their cattle. While researching, Creed learned about the diseases that ranchers hope to prevent through vaccination. "Branding Day on our Ranch" gave Creed the opportunity to share his personal experiences with other students so they can learn about the important work ranchers do and how our food is produced.

Illustrated by: Inderkum High School
Natomas Unified School District
Diana Mayo, Jacqueline Barragan, Mamie Yang, Jasmine Thorne, Jackie Williams, Tabitha Sotelo, Mariah Regalado and Matthew Naraja
Art Instructor: Michelle Townsend

The students in the Art Club at Inderkum High School met during lunch and after school to coordinate and organize the project of illustrating "Branding Day on Our Ranch." With little knowledge about ranching, the students said they were interested to learn about the traditions during branding season. They broke the project into three parts. First, they used pencil to draw all the illustrations. Then, they outlined the illustrations with Sharpie pens and scanned them onto the computer, where they finished coloring the illustrations digitally. The students, who said they will benefit from the skills developed during the project, noted that they are proud of their finished illustrations and honored to have helped another student achieve his dream of becoming a published author.

Strawberry Troublemakers

Harper and her little sister, Jillian, live on a strawberry farm and are alarmed to find brown bugs crawling on their crop. Their father identifies the culprits as lygus bugs and explains how they damage strawberries. The girls help fight the bugs—and save the family farm. Read the story.

"People work hard to get (the food) we use today." Allyson Wei

Author: Allyson Wei
7th grade, San Gabriel Christian School
Los Angeles County
Teacher: Clarence Atwater

Allyson Wei, a seventh-grader from Los Angeles County, loves to eat strawberries and used this opportunity to learn even more about the berry. While writing the award-winning story, "Strawberry Troublemakers," Allyson learned about pest management and different techniques farmers use to prevent damage to their crops. Her favorite part of writing the story was re-reading the paragraphs and liking the direction her story was taking. She said she knew she had a creative storyline that was fun to follow and made the reader feel an urgent need to know how it ends. Allyson wanted students to know that growing crops is not easy; it takes hard work and we should all be grateful to the farmers who grow our food.

Illustrated by: Valley High School
Elk Grove Unified School District
Noel Hernandez Jr., Aleph Levi Oregon-Garcia, Aaron Phomthevy and Brian Roberts
Art Instructor: Patricia Dismukes

The group of five young men worked together to illustrate "Strawberry Troublemakers," bringing different levels of experience, expertise and knowledge of agriculture. They knew about strawberries and were able to relate to the main character's love for the fruit, but none was familiar with the growing process. The students learned there are different pest-management methods and that chrysanthemums can be used in pest control. They developed an appreciation for the families that grow the many different crops in California that they enjoy each day. The students said they were honored to be asked to illustrate the story. This is the first group project they have worked on together and they knew it was going to take time management skills in and outside of class to complete the illustrations on time. The group said they learned to listen to each other's ideas and made decisions together, giving each member an opportunity to showcase both leadership and art skills.

Raineo and Dropulete

Love-stricken water drops Raineo and Dropulete are separated when they fall from the sky. Raineo travels through river, lake, pipe and canal to irrigate young peach trees. Again and again, he evaporates and irrigates other crops until he finally finds Dropulete. They make "many more trips through the water cycle … hand in hand together forever." Read the story.

"My story is all about conservation of water and the three types of irrigation." Morgan Hicks

Author: Morgan Hicks
8th grade, Gratton Elementary School
Stanislaus County
Teacher: Steve Merchant

Eighth-grader Morgan Hicks drew from her knowledge that water is important in agriculture to write her award-winning story. Morgan was raised on a 17-acre almond farm in Stanislaus County. She was familiar with sprinkler irrigation, which is used as a method to irrigate almond trees, but not about the other types of irrigation used in agriculture. She wanted to teach students about the water cycle and irrigation in a creative story that appealed to all ages. This inspired Morgan to write "Raineo and Dropulete." She said she hopes other students will learn about the different types of irrigation systems used in agriculture by reading her story.

Illustrated by: John F. Kennedy High School
Sacramento City Unified School District
Katelynn Mitchell, Brandon Sen, Natalie Wilson, Valerie Moua and Daniel Crutcher
Art Instructor: Aimee Thibedeau

The illustrators of "Raineo and Dropulete" were intrigued by the opportunity to illustrate a story written by an eighth-grade student. They didn't know a lot about agriculture, but they knew that water and food are very important to everyone. While illustrating the story, the students learned about irrigation methods used on farms and that different types are used for different plants. They were not in the same class, so had lunch meetings to determine the best way to complete the project to ensure that the illustrations were consistent throughout the story. The students completed the project using digital programs. They said the project gave them the opportunity to learn about collaboration and working as a team while practicing their computer skills.

California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom contributed author and illustrator biographies to this story.

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