Califonia Bountiful

Growing young artists

September/October 2021 California Bountiful magazine

California agriculture sows story seeds in students' imaginations

Although farmers and ranchers live and work in all regions of California, the state's population is overwhelmingly urban—and so are schools. The California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom helps bring agricultural knowledge into the classroom, and its annual "Imagine this…" Story Writing Contest has once again delivered a fresh, new crop of young writers and illustrators.

For Judy Culbertson, the foundation executive director, the contest for grades three through eight is one of its premier programs. In addition to helping children understand where food and fiber come from, she pointed out, it's a platform for their voices and passions.

"The contest was really developed to create a positive learning experience that promotes reading, writing and the arts, and it does it through a creative process," Culbertson said.

This research-based process fueled the stories from this year's six statewide winners. In addition to being honored in virtual awards ceremonies and receiving prizes for themselves and their classes, the winners have their stories illustrated by high school art students for publication in an anthology.

In "Imagine this… Stories Inspired by Agriculture 2021" (see Book Reviews), the winning students and teachers include first-time entrants, previous regional winners and siblings. A mix of fiction and nonfiction, the entertaining and fact-filled topics vary from a cauliflower's self-worth to the cyclical life story of twin avocados.

While reflecting California's diverse agricultural offerings, many stories also examine personal or social issues—such as prejudice, international economics, nutrition, and family recipes and businesses.

Seventh-grader Allee DePalma's winning story originated with her passion for makeup, which bloomed into a journey through historical and modern natural cosmetic ingredients. In her research, she unearthed information on plant-based makeup.

"I was not only intrigued to learn about it for my benefit, but I was really excited to write a story about it," she said.

For Allee, and every student who participated, the "Imagine this…" Story Writing Contest is an opportunity to learn about agriculture, Culbertson said, and also a chance for the students to direct the conversation about their futures as they become the next generation of California writers—or farmers.

'Imagine this...' 2021 state winners

Cauliflower Pizza  

By Jayna Wenger

Third Grade, Hart Ransom Elementary School, Stanislaus County
Teacher: Stacey Gonsalves
Illustrator: Tami Rouse
Inderkum High School, Sacramento
Art instructor: Rachel Rodriguez

"(Cauliflower) was new to our garden this year and that's how I got the idea."

A kitchen emergency leads to cauliflower finding a new place in the culinary world, while helping to save a neighborhood pizza joint.

Colors Don't Matter

By Sofia Magni

Fourth Grade, Sacred Heart School, Stanislaus County
Teacher: Kevin Crivelli
Illustrator: Maya Zendejas
Woodland High School, Woodland
Art instructor: Alyssa Takahashi

"I really like bell peppers … and I wrote what I could when I came up with interesting things in the middle of the day."

A young bell pepper defies peer pressure by learning about and befriending a bell pepper of another color.

Audrey and Ava the Avocados

By Evelyn Dores

Fifth Grade, St. Anthony School, Merced County
Teacher: Brianna Perez
Illustrators: Abrar Abdulhadi and Chloe Yang
Florin High School, Sacramento
Art instructor: Alexandra Pease

"I have older sisters that are twins and they're the inspiration for Ava and Audrey."

Twin avocados graduate from school and travel to the grocery store, the kitchen and beyond.

The Wonderful World of Wool

By Hailee Luiz

Sixth Grade, Scott Valley Junior High School, Siskiyou County
Teacher: Jed Merrihew
Illustrators: Luna Pease and Haley Sevigny
Florin High School, Sacramento
Art instructor: Alexandra Pease

"I was happy to finally be a published author and to see the illustrations and my ideas brought to life."

A girl learns how the wool from her favorite sheep is processed and turned into a variety of products—from lotion to insulation.

Alison and the Secrets Behind Makeup

By Allee DePalma

Seventh Grade, Gratton Elementary School, Stanislaus County
Teacher: Rexann Casteel
Illustrator: Tasia King
Inderkum High School, Sacramento
Art instructor: Rachel Rodriguez

"I realized that there is a lot of agriculture behind makeup."

Two makeup enthusiasts discover the historical and modern uses of natural and plant-based makeup.

Backyard Basil

By Will Magni

Eighth Grade, Sacred Heart School, Stanislaus County
Teacher: Elaine Magni
Illustrators: Kali Kindelt, Melia Raj and Grace Reimer
Woodland High School, Woodland
Art instructor: Scott Coppenger

"Since we were in the pandemic and we had a garden, I started writing ideas and then it all came together."

Practical tips and real-life experiences fuel this story of homegrown basil and homemade pesto.

Become California's next author!

The annual "Imagine this..." Story Writing Contest allows California children to craft informative and entertaining agriculture-themed stories. Students in grades three through eight can hone their academic skills and flex their creativity as they work with teachers to research and write their stories.

The contest awards 48 regional winners. The six statewide winners have their stories illustrated by high school art students for collection in a published anthology. Additionally, statewide winners receive prizes for themselves and their classrooms, along with a trip to Sacramento to be honored during an awards ceremony at the state Capitol.

The deadline for entries in the 2022 "Imagine this…" Story Writing Contest is Nov. 1. To find more information or to enter, visit¬†

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