Here is an article I wrote about the Summer Ag Institute that will be featured in July’s edition of the Point of View! (The text is at the bottom, I couldn’t figure out how to share the PDF online.)
POINT OF VIEW July 2012 Page 7
– Agricultural Literacy –
Summer Ag Institute: “Teaching about Food: Production, Nutrition & Safety”
DeKalb County teachers continued their pursuit of agricultural knowledge while completing this year’s Summer Ag Institute (SAI).
The June sessions of SAI continued to reinforce this year’s theme, “Teaching about Food: Production, Nutrition and Safety”. Over four consecutive days, participants had the opportunity to tour different agribusinesses and farms around northern Illinois. SAI gave the teachers new knowledge that can be utilized not only in their classrooms, but also in their personal lives.
To start off the intensive week, teachers were introduced to a variety of resources—many of which they could use as foundations for lesson plans or for instant classroom use. Then, many of their food misconceptions were debunked by a presentation about food myths and facts given by Tamara Nelsen, Senior Director of Commodities at Illinois Farm Bureau.
Food Company Tours – On the first day of field trips, the group boarded a bus to The Suter Company’s processing facility in Sycamore where they witnessed firsthand the production of chicken salad that is distributed throughout the Midwest under a variety of different labels. They then toured Suter’s packaging facility where products are boxed, labeled, and shipped. The last stop of the day was at Tate and Lyle Custom Ingredients where a variety of ingredient mixes are produced and sold to be blended into various dairy products.
Grain & Hog Farm Visits – The following day, the teachers heard a presentation about the soybean industry given by Julie Blunier of Illinois Soybean Association. Afterwards, they traveled to Paul and Aaron Butler’s organic farm near DeKalb. There they listened to the Butler’s perspective on the challenges and rewards of organic farming. Next, they toured Jamie Walter’s commercial corn operation. Participants learned about the many different types of equipment involved in field corn production. They also discussed the use of biotechnology such as Roundup-Ready and Bt corn. Finally, the group traveled to Carl Heide’s hog operation on the north side of DeKalb. There, teachers witnessed various stages of swine growth, interacted with young pigs, and learned the ins and outs of modern pork production.
Poultry, Soybean, Dairy Farm Tours – Northwestern Illinois was the destination for Wednesday’s field trips. The first stop of the day was Pearl Valley Eggs, a laying hen operation with well over a million birds. The teachers first witnessed Pearl Valley Eggs’ compost business which stemmed directly from the manure of their laying hens. They then saw the laying hen barns where tens of thousands of eggs are laid each day. Teachers also visited the facility where the eggs are cleaned, graded and put into cartons. Next, they traveled to Willowbrook Farms owned and operated by Karl Lawfer. The group learned about different farm-related tools, and listened to Karl’s take on his soybean operation and family farming. Karl’s sister, Peggy Harmston, also gave a presentation on her local business, Massbach Ridge Winery, and provided samples of her award-winning wine. Participants then boarded the bus to travel to the final tour site, Hunter Haven Farms. They saw Doug Block’s herd of Holstein cows whose milk goes entirely toward making Swiss cheese. The teachers viewed such farm features as the calving barn, milking parlor, bulk tank, and methane digester which converts all of the operation’s manure into electricity.
The last class session of SAI took place at the Farm Bureau. Teachers reported on articles chosen from agricultural magazines, and gained more information and ideas for lesson plans. Summer interns Jacquelyn Prestegaard and Kelsey Faivre also gave presentations on the beef industry and the importance of ag literacy, respectively. Also, three panelists – Mark Tuttle, Somonauk farmer and president of the DeKalb County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, Justin Martz, a local beef farmer and Cattlemen’s Association president, and Sarah Muirhead, editor and publisher of Feedstuffs Magazine – came in for an interesting discussion on current ag issues. At the end of the day, teachers reflected on what they learned during their 40 hours in SAI, as well as discussed their opinions and new views on food and the agricultural industry.
To date, nearly 200 teachers have participated in DeKalb County’s Summer Ag Institute. It is a graduate-level course offered each year by DeKalb County Farm Bureau in partnership with Northern Illinois University. Through the Institute, the educators hope to develop informed, responsible citizens by teaching their students the importance of agriculture.
Aaron Butler of Butler Farms discusses the challenges and rewards of his organic farming operation.
Carl Heide, a local hog farmer, was one of many tour hosts for this year’s SAI.
SAI participants pose at Willowbrook Farms in northwestern Illinois. Eighteen local teachers completed this year’s Institute.