LANSING — Agriculture in the Classroom turned into a question mark when Michigan schools moved to virtual learning in November.
No longer could schools welcome one of the Michigan Farm Bureau FARM Science Labs, 40-foot mobile classrooms equipped with learning stations and STEM lessons to increase agricultural awareness, or host a Project Rural Education Day with county Farm Bureaus.
"FARM Science Labs are parked for the school year because we can't get in schools due to COVID-19,” said Michelle Blodgett, manager of Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom, an MFB nonprofit that started the project.
“In August we decided to come up with something different, so we could still reach students and educators and let them learn where their food comes from.”
Plan B, according to Blodgett, was to distribute FARM Crates full of ag-accurate books, ag-themed lesson plans, teacher guides, hands-on student activities and Michigan farmer videos. As part of the FARM Crate program, boxes are distributed to educators in kindergarten through fifth grade.
According to Blodgett, the program uses a different theme each month to create lesson plans and activities that teachers can utilize in their classrooms, whether in-person learning or online.
"A lot of educators talk about the excitement when the crate is delivered. Teachers are excited because we have gone across the curriculum,” Blodgett said. “We've done more thematic teaching where they're able to tie it to their language arts, math, or social studies standards."
"It's helping teachers check many boxes and giving students more opportunities to learn about the commodities we grow in Michigan and the importance of agriculture,” she continued.
Delivered through a subscription-based program, the FARM Crate or lesson plans cost $35 per month, with the option of buying a three month subscription and getting an additional free month.
To date, Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom’s delivered 500 monthly crates, according to Amelia Miller, MFB Promotion and Education Programs specialist, with crates sent to 150 different schools statewide in 48 counties.
“We're really fortunate our county Farm Bureaus supported the project in the way that they did,” Miller said. “Most of the orders come from county Farm Bureaus who give crates to schools in their communities.
“This fall we were presented with a lot of challenges, especially when it came to school field trips and students being able to go outside the classroom. The FARM Crate project allowed our volunteers to build those relationships and maintain Agriculture in the Classroom activities."
Shelly Taylor teaches 12 second-graders in Chikaming, where her school participates in the FARM Crate program.
“Students love it,” she told Michigan Farm News. “They get excited to do the lessons, and the books that come with it are great literature. The students are also really engaged with the videos. It's neat because a lot of things mentioned are local, and we can connect it to local places around us.”
According to Taylor, her class is on month three of the program.
“It's just been kind of a crazy school year,” Taylor said. “Sometimes it's hard to fit everything in, but when you have the box right in front of you with all the materials, it makes it super easy to hit those science standards.
“As long as they're offering it, we're very interested in continuing it.”
A retired teacher and MFB FARM Science Lab regional educator from Tuscola County, Julie Ruggles said students enjoy learning about agriculture.
“I'm so happy with the response we've gotten from our state,” Ruggles said. “We were hoping to get 100 (crates) out, and now 500 crates are going out. As an educator, to get that crate and have it in my classroom — everything is right there. It's a really trying (time) right now for our teachers. They are struggling, and this is something they can read on Zoom, their lessons are digital and on paper, and it’s excellent for our teachers to have a new unit every month.”
If you’d like to purchase a FARM Crate or gift it to the student or teacher, visit the Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom store. Orders placed before Jan. 25, 2021, will qualify for the buy-three-get-one-free deal.
To date, other agricultural organizations have partnered to financially support the FARM Crates, including: Michigan Allied Poultry, Michigan Sugar Company, Michigan Christmas Tree Association and Dutchman Tree Farms. Farms or organizations interested in sponsorship opportunities should contact Kate Thiel, Michigan Foundation for Agriculture development manager.
FARM Crates are a special project of the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture — a 501(c)(3) formed by Michigan Farm Bureau with a mission of positively contributing to the future of Michigan agriculture through leadership and educational programming.