QUINCY — Not even a pandemic could stop agriculture in the classroom efforts in Adams and Hancock counties.
“We had to think outside the box,” said Robin Thomson, Adams County ag literacy coordinator.
So Thomson visited what classrooms she could during the 2020-21 school year, dropped off lessons for classrooms, offered a lesson via Zoom and taught students outside. A new program, Ag in the Park offered in May, June and July in seven communities, drew 500 adults along with 1,236 kids.
“It’s important to teach the kids where their food, fiber and fuel comes from all the way from farm to table,” Thomson said. “Many times they have no idea where it all comes from.”
During a typical school year, more than 650,000 students and close to 40,000 teachers engage in ag literacy lessons, but numbers dropped due to the pandemic.
“The willingness of local ag literacy coordinators to stay connected and find new and meaningful ways to maintain outreach with local students led to more than 15,000 lessons conducted during the height of a global pandemic,” Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom education director Kevin Daugherty said in a news release.
Helping with the effort again this year is grants from the IAA Foundation — $8,529.02 to Adams County and $9,343 to Hancock.
Grant funding varies year to year, based on what the foundation raises, but “it’s crucial. It’s how my program is partially funded,” Thomson said.
“Providing these grants helps ensure students are reached with accurate agricultural messages which help them connect food, fuel and fiber systems back to farming,” Daugherty said.
Seventy-eight coalitions serving 87 Illinois counties were awarded $630,000 in grants to use for materials, trainings, educational lessons and activities taking place in the 2021-22 school year.
“I’m back in the classroom,” Thomson said. “It’s trickled slowly with everything that the teachers are trying to deal with. They know where I’m at. When they need me, they’ll come find me.”
In its 23rd year of educating students about the importance of agriculture and natural resources, the Hancock County program led by Dawn Weinberg hopes to reach 1,599 students in 98 classrooms monthly during face-to-face presentations.
In June, the county provided 15 hours of professional development for teachers with program facilitators including University of Illinois Extension, Hancock County Farm Bureau and Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District.
County coalition grants are made possible through funding from the foundation, the charitable arm of the Illinois Farm Bureau. The foundation raises funds for the IAITC program each year, and in addition to county grants, it provides funding for Ag Mags, teacher grants and summer ag academies.