Califonia Bountiful

Imagine this...

September/October 2017 California Bountiful magazine

Storied tradition helps students understand agriculture

Sixth-grader Grace Reis is a determined writer, and for years she's been hard at work with one goal in mind. Since third grade, the Denair student has been crafting stories for the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom "Imagine this…" story-writing contest, hoping her agriculture enthusiasm would be rewarded. In 2016, her persistence finally paid off, when she captured a state-winning title for her "Cow-lifornia Cookies" story.

For nearly a quarter century, "Imagine this…" has inspired California kids to learn more about agriculture. For students participating in the annual contest, the learning that takes place during the research and writing process lasts well beyond the pages of their stories. The contest is an opportunity to create lifelong agriculture advocates, just like Reis.

"That perseverance and continuing to want to win this contest has been instilled in her," said Reis' school's writing instructor, Sheila Amaral. "I'm very proud of her for doing that."

Once the winning narratives are selected, high school art students create illustrations that bring the stories to life for "Imagine this… Stories Inspired by Agriculture," a book showcasing California agriculture through children's eyes. (See Book Reviews.)

The contest encourages students to learn about all facets of agriculture, and it also provides welcome surprises. Emily Chavez, an Elk Grove art student, discovered that she has a talent for drawing calves, heifers and cows. She only came to that realization while illustrating Reis' story. Third-grade winning author Julia Daniels of Denair had never tasted spaghetti squash before penning her entry, yet learning about the crop helped her earn a top prize. Now Daniels' and other students' connections to California agriculture have been firmly established.

The 2016 collection of stories showcases California's agricultural variety, featuring dairy, various fruits and vegetables, and a story that bloomed from a student's keen interest in flowers. A new genre also appeared in this year's contest, in the form of a time-traveling narrative featuring technological advancements, comparing 1930s production methods with modern farming.

"Agriculture is a fundamental part of our culture," eighth-grade author Will Morris of Etna said. "I think that people sometimes don't know a lot about it, and it's good for them to realize that it's a big factor in our country."

Christy Heron-Clark

Spaghetti Problem Solved

By Julia Daniels

Third Grade, Gratton Elementary School, Stanislaus County
Teacher: Sheila Amaral
Illustrated by Kevin Le and Mai Thy Nguyen, Sheldon High School, Sacramento
Art instructor: Kelsey Dillard

"Mrs. Amaral said the topic was squash, so I thought of spaghetti squash."

A truckload of farm-fresh spaghetti squash is the answer to a cook's problem when his usual ingredients can't be found in time for the big party.

Addison and Her Award-Winning Artichoke

By Skylar Fredieu

Fourth Grade, Fred Ekstrand Elementary School, Los Angeles County
Teacher: Diana Di Ioli
Illustrated by Kira Benton, Holly Cheng and Michelle Yee, Franklin High School, Elk Grove
Art instructor: Derek Bills

"I didn't really know about artichokes, so I decided to do artichokes."

A contest to see who can grow the biggest vegetable sets the stage for learning all about artichokes and what it takes to help them thrive.

Carrot Civil War

By Sahib Sangha

Fifth Grade, Shannon Ranch Elementary School, Tulare County
Teacher: Ann Fry
Illustrated by Shailah Gonzalez and Selena Vargas, Woodland High School, Woodland
Art instructor: Scott Coppenger

"It was fun because I actually didn't know much—I thought I knew a lot, but I actually didn't."

It takes a war waged by mutant roots to help educate everyone about the healthy aspects of carrots.

Cow-lifornia Cookies

By Grace Reis

Sixth Grade, Gratton Elementary School, Stanislaus County
Teacher: Sheila Amaral
Illustrated by Emily Chavez and Johana Santillán-Meza, Valley High School, Sacramento
Art instructor: Alexandra Pease

"Other people learn when they read it, but you learn in the process of doing, so I think it is very important."

A curious cow and her corral mate host a school tour group, and everyone learns about the wide range of dairy products made from milk.

The Freezeless Flower

By Kylie Daws

Seventh Grade, Scott Valley Junior High School, Siskiyou County
Teacher: Amy Hurlimann
Illustrated by Jazmin Oliveros, Afrah Said and Tierra Towne, Inderkum High School, Sacramento
Art instructor: Rachel Rodriguez

"Everybody writes about different stuff, so when you read the book you don't learn about just one thing."

One bloom's experience offers details about growing cut flowers and arranging these sometimes-fragile plants.

Back to the Farmer

By Will Morris

Eighth Grade, Scott Valley Junior High School, Siskiyou County
Teacher: Amy Hurlimann
Illustrated by Taylor Barton, Sarah Hinton, Natalie Jurado and Jason Smario, Delta High School, Clarksburg
Art instructor: Corrie Soderlund

"Agriculture is a fundamental part of our culture, and I think that people sometimes don't know a lot about it."

A tech-savvy ranch hand takes an unexpected trip back in time and gains a better perspective on how far farming has come since the 1930s.

Learn about agriculture... write away!

Every year, thousands of students participate in the "Imagine this…" story-writing contest. Children in grades three to eight are asked to highlight a California agricultural product in carefully crafted prose. The contest annually selects 48 regional winners and six state-level winners.

Winners celebrate their accomplishments each spring at California Agriculture Day in Sacramento. The event provides an opportunity for authors and illustrators to meet, as they're honored by legislators and receive their top-prize medals and e-readers.

The deadline for entries is Nov. 1. To learn more about the "Imagine this…" contest, download the stories, watch interviews with the authors and explore free K-12 teaching resources, visit

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