Ag in the Bag: Fun & Free Agriculture Classroom Presentations

Written for Illinois Farm Families Field Mom Blog- April 2014

“Do I look like a farmer?” Diane Merrion, agriculture literacy coordinator with the Cook County Farm Bureau, asked the forty children, ages 3-5, in my son’s preschool class. They studied her black pants and red sweater quizzically.

“I bet you thought I’d be wearing overalls and boots,” she said. That was just the first myth she was there to dispel.

Kids these days, especially those living in big cities like us, can be pretty far removed from farming and its impact on their everyday lives. I wanted my son to not only know what was on Old McDonald’s farm, but also what it provided us. That’s why I asked Ag in the Classroom to come to his Chicago Public School preschool for a presentation on food, fiber and fuel.

Although Diane typically does in-school field trips for fourth graders, she was fabulous with the youngsters, quickly pulling real agriculture products out of her bag for the children to touch and feel. The first was a long, golden stem of wheat.

“Wow!” the kids all murmured.

One student and a teacher got to touch it, noting how it felt “smooth like hair.” After rubbing the wheat in the other direction, the teacher scrunched her nose. Her students guessed it must have felt “prickly like a porcupine.

Diane showed the children samples from Illinois crops, like dent, sweet and popping corn. Did you know that popcorn is the Illinois state snack? She also pulled source components, like soybeans, out of a cracker box to demonstrate what goes into the foods kids love. For example, soybean oil is used to make Wheat Thins.

“What does a cow have that’s different than us?” Diane asked.

“More tummies,” a four-year-old quickly piped in, reminding me of a fact I had forgotten.

As the kids called out the differing parts between a cow and a human, Diane dressed up a volunteer. There were four balloons for the stomachs and a fly swatter for the tail, along with hooves and a scratchy tongue. The furry brown outfit was adorable and helped the kids visualize the total differences.

Diane showed innovations like packing peanuts made from corn, which dissolve in water. She then asked which corn product babies use every day. We were all stumped. My son volunteered to stir a mixture of water and cornstarch, which demonstrated the product she was referring to.

“It’s frozen!” the kids gasped, mystified by the thick goo.

“Is it your water?” Diane joked. “No, this is a corn product, used in diapers.”

“Yuck!” hollered the children; but we parents, we’re grateful. The hydrosorb material in diapers, paper towels and napkins soak up a lot of messes.

Diane talked about the jobs the kids could do when they grow up related to agriculture– like being a food scientist, pilot or farmer. She also explained things pigs give us. The children seemed to understand that bacon and sausage came from hogs; but when she said “heart valve transplants,” I thought it might go over the preschoolers’ heads. However, the next morning at breakfast, I was delighted to hear my son talk about the “heart tubes pigs give us.” Kids absorb more than you might expect.

Diane ended her session at the preschool with a funny farm-to-fork book, “The Cow in Patrick O’Shanahan’s Kitchen” by Diana Prichard. The kids loved the pig and cow paper plate crafts she brought for them. Did you know that cows’ ear tags are stamped with their birthdates?

Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) is a national program with activities in every state. The mission of Cook County AITC is “to expand students’ awareness and appreciation for the importance of agriculture everywhere.” They offer free 4th grade “in-school field trips,” 3rd grade ag days, ag magazines and curriculum kits as well as low-cost teacher workshops and summer agriculture institutes. Last year Cook County Farm Bureau’s AITC team visited over 300 classrooms and reached 21,000 4th grade students. They can also be available for career days and presentations on topics like nutrition, biotechnology, environmental impacts of farming and sanitation.

If you have students in Cook County, teachers can sign up now for presentations, which are given September through May.

Contact Diane Merrion, Agriculture Literacy Coordinator
Phone 708-354-3276

They’ve got ag in the bag, bringing fun and informative presentations to classrooms, often for free.