Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom

By Layle Bennett

Have you ever wondered how you can make homemade ice cream? Or how bumble bees move pollen from flower to flower? Maybe even how livestock grazing on rangeland affects the grass growth? All of these and so much more are activities and topics I personally learned about with Oregon Agriculture In The Classroom (AITC)! 

Growing up in a small rural ranching town in eastern Oregon AITC was a big part of my education starting clear back in kindergarten!

I can remember anxiously waiting in my blue plastic seat in Mrs. Nelson’s kindergarten class for the recess bell to ring. Now I know you’re probably thinking, “well of course recess was one of the best subjects in school!” While I was excited for recess, I was even more excited because right after recess was when we got to do our AITC activity. My favorite AITC activity was an annual tradition for my elementary school, where we learned about dairy cows and all the amazing things that you can make with milk!

Why was this my favorite you may ask? Well, think of all the amazing products you can create with milk! Cheese, yogurt, chocolate milk! What about ice cream!!! What made this annual event so exciting for me was these delicious treats we produced after learning about the process.

A few weeks before summer vacation we would sit in the classroom and learn all about dairy cows and how their milk was used. After learning all the facts, we would gather in small groups and head outside into the warm spring days where we would take Folgers coffee cans, milk, sugar, ice, vanilla, rock salt, and a big Ziplock bag and shake, shake, shake until we had made ice cream! We filled our bowls to the brim with the sweet, handcrafted ice cream, sprinkling toppings over the surface. We sat in the grass and ate our melting ice cream in the sunshine.

This is by far one of my fondest memories from elementary school and many of my other favorite elementary school memories involve AITC. AITC played a huge part in my youth and helped to fuel my agricultural spark!

AITC is such an amazing organization that works to help bring agricultural education to youth in kindergarten all the way through high school. Not only does AITC offer hundreds of lesson plans and activities for teachers, leaders, FFA advisors, 4-Hers, and much more but they also have a lending library, numerous educational connections, and they also host a yearly literacy project. The literacy project is one of AITC’s largest projects where they choose an educational book on agriculture to read in classrooms and then form a lesson plan and activity to go along with it. The chosen book is then offered to educators to purchase for not only their classrooms but also as a gift to each student.

AITC literacy project is another one of my favorite memories from childhood. From having my teacher read to us and doing the project to reading the literacy book to classrooms myself and teaching the youth the activity! This year’s literacy project was on the book “The Girl Who Thought in Pictures” which tells the story of Dr. Temple Grandin and her new age ideas and contributions to animal agriculture! While this year’s literacy project looked a little different due to being all online, AITC brought the classroom to life on zoom with their exciting projects and dedication to the youth of today.

Now, I talked about how through elementary school I was taught with AITC lesson plans and how I have many fond memories of projects we completed, but AITC was still a big part of my life through middle school, high school, and even more so now in college. In middle school my teachers switched from the fundamentals that AITC taught such as how the milk we drink comes from cows on a dairy farm, how oregon produces over 220 different agricultural products from A-Z, or how we have agriculture all around us to the more detailed and in-depth lesson plans that AITC had like how fish and plants work together in an aquatic system to the costs of what different futures in agriculture would be.

Getting to learn more about all the different industries of agriculture and natural resources through the more advanced lessons from AITC started to focus my spark in agriculture and made me realize that agriculture is where my passion lies. Moving into high school, I had the opportunity to be involved with AITC in a more professional manner as I helped teach the lessons that I, myself, had learned as a youth.

I have always had a huge passion for agriculture and spreading the knowledge of all the different things agriculture does to people who are involved in ag and to those who may not know anything about ag. In high school and through AITC I started spreading the word about ag through literacy projects in classrooms, helping teach lesson plans, helping youth prepare their entries for the AITC calendar, and much more.

Moving into college, I dove into all the aspects of AITC in Oregon. My sophomore year of college I joined the professional agricultural sorority at Oregon State University, Sigma Alpha, whose philanthropy is Oregon AITC! When I found this out, I was overjoyed! I could not wait to continue to contribute back to and work with the organization that played such a huge role in me pursuing a career in agriculture!

Today I get to help everyone in the Oregon AITC office with various projects like building lesson plans, putting together classroom kits, helping with the literacy project, volunteering at their annual auction, and much more.

Oregon AITC is an amazing program that brings agriculture, rangeland, and natural resource education to life in the classroom for the youth today. One of the best things about Oregon AITC is that it is not just for rural ag youth! Oregon AITC is for every youth of any age! There is something for everyone at Oregon AITC whether you want to learn about the water cycle, rangeland habitats, how honey is made, or more!

Oregon AITC has had a huge impact on my life from my elementary school days all the way through my adult life helping to keep that ag spark alive and thriving and allowing me to constantly learn more about the ag industry. Being able to contribute even a small part to Oregon AITC after all that they have given me over my 22 years is something I greatly value and hope to continue to do for many years to come.

“What would you like to learn from Oregon AITC?” Comment your responses down below to engage further with us!

(Photo credited to Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation)

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