Class a resource for raising students’ awareness of ag


More than 100 people attended the Marion County Conservation District’s 66th annual dinner and meeting Saturday at Eastmoor United Methodist Church in Marion.

In addition to poster contest presentations and recognizing conservation award recipients, Michelle Carlson of Hillsboro talked about her experiences in “Connecting Your Classroom to Kansas Agriculture,” along with providing a slide show.

Carlson, a second-grade teacher at Hope Elementary School, thanked the district for providing a scholarship for her to attend the five-day class last summer.

“It was an awesome class,” she said, “and I have a short snippet of what we did and some of the ways we are incorporating (what was learned) in the classroom.”

The class at Kansas State University involved 24 educators from around the state teaching kindergarten through 12th grade.

“My goal was not to make farmers out of students, but instead to increase learning by providing hands-on project based lessons about agriculture,” Carlson said.

Included in the class, she said, were tours to a greenhouse, flour mill, Hildebrand Dairy Farm, Good Farms Inc., Lyons Angus Ranch, Wayne and Rod Gfeller’s family farm and a presentation by Walton Rural Life Center.

Bugs in food?

Highlighting some of her adventures, Carlson talked about the insect zoo at K-State Gardens.

“We saw a lot of products and we eat a lot of bugs in our food,” she said. “Actually (in some foods) we eat ground-up beetles from north and central America.”

Carlson said if the ingredients label says “carmine” or “cochineal,” the consumer is eating those bugs.

Some of the foods that include carmine and cochineal are in yogurt, fruit juices and gelatins—anything red, she said.

Classroom ideas

Carlson said she has incorporated many of the ideas she learned from the tours and charter school in Walton into her classrooms.

One example was making grassy heads using wheat seed, potting soil and some old nylon socks.

“This is a great way for kids to understand what plants need, and then once the wheat seeds sprout, they can give the grassy heads a haircut,” Carlson said.

On another occasion, she took her students to Hildebrand Dairy to learn about the business and sample products.

One of the most recent activities in her classroom is growing lettuce.

“Every Monday we plant lettuce, and when it gets bigger it goes into our greenhouse (until it’s time to harvest it),” she said.

She said her students are learning about the different varieties of lettuce and ways to grow it.

“For the past two years the students have had a variety of plants and flowers in the greenhouse, and we will have an annual sale of these plants and flowers.”

Carlson said the students also are growing tomatoes, which will be used in the school cafeteria.

Salsa ingredients

“The goal for next year’s second-grade class will be growing all the ingredients for salsa,” Carlson said.“We plan to raise the peppers, onions and cilantro.”

K-State also sponsors a “Willie and the Beanstock” contest March 5. Carlson said her students will be partners with high school students in attempting to grow the tallest soybean plant.

Students will be divided in groups of three, and the team with the tallest soybean plant will compete against other schools.

Carlson said she encourages other teachers to consider taking the course.

“I learned so much in five days,” she said.

The class addresses not only agriculture, but also food and milling sciences, agronomy, biotechnology, entomology, animals sciences and horticulture.

“It will give other teachers more ideas on how to get agriculture in their classrooms,” she said.

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