October 2013
Youth Matters

Alabama Agriculture Comes Neatly Packaged:


Above, images on each side of the 24-foot Ag In Action trailer. It will be traveling throughout North Alabama beginning this fall to schools, events and Farm-City Week programs. Below, another side of the Ag in Action trailer. This project will be teaching elementary- to middle school-aged kids about Alabama agriculture beginning this fall. 

Seen Soon at Local Schools

Picking corn, operating a chicken house, harvesting timber, gathering cotton and calling up cows will soon be an experience for school-aged children in North Alabama. This fall, a farming opportunity called Ag in Action will arrive at schools neatly packaged in a 24-foot trailer. Thanks to some out-of-the-box thinking by Farm-City volunteers who are zealous about teaching kids where their food and fiber come from, students will have a hands-on farming experience without leaving the campus.

Ag in Action is a mobile learning lab or ag simulator that will travel throughout seven participating counties. The idea stemmed from a casual conversation between Dewandee Neyman of Cherokee County and Sharon Groves from Etowah County who had both toured an ag simulator trailer (a trailer with information inside simulating the experience of agriculture) from another state.

"We began talking about how we wished Alabama had something similar to a mobile trailer that houses information about agriculture and can be taken to places where people can’t necessarily get to a farm," recalled Groves, who is secretary of the Etowah County Farmers Federation Board of Directors. "We began talking to members of the RC&D boards in our area and they were supportive in encouraging us to pursue this project."

Sponsors are listed on the back of the trailer. Many businesses and agencies were vital to the accomplishment of the Ag In Action trailer. The cab of a cotton picker will be the main hub of the hands-on farming experience. Students will sit in the seat and harvest virtual corn.  

This 5-year, $30,000 project has been made possible by the support of many businesses and ag-related agencies in the area. Sponsors for this exciting venture include Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council, Cherokee County Career and Technology Center, First South Farm Credit, Alabama’s Mountains Rivers and Valleys Resources Conservation and Development Council, Cherokee Gin and Cotton Co., Snead Ag, Alabama Farm Credit, Gilreath Printing and Signs, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and Farmers Federations from Blount, DeKalb, Cherokee, Calhoun, Etowah, Marshall and St. Clair counties.

"Agriculture today is so much more than what the average person thinks about the stereotypical farm," explained Sarah Butterworth, education coordinator for the Etowah County Soil and Water Conservation District and Etowah County Farmers Federation. "It’s agronomy; it’s management; it’s using smart technology to grow and harvest more commodities with less money. This is something important the kids will be able to learn - that farming has evolved similar to other occupations have with the growth of technology."

Left, inside the Ag in Action trailer, students will see pictures to help them further understand today’s production agriculture. Right, photos taken from farms in North Alabama are seen inside the Ag in Action trailer. Students will see the agriculture produced in their county and surrounding areas once they experience this ag simulator.

Inside the trailer is the cab of a cotton picker that serves as the ag simulator. Students can sit in the cab and "pick" corn, cotton and soybeans. They can harvest timber and hay as well as work in a poultry house while looking into a TV screen simulating actually driving the equipment. When they look to the left or right, there are cotton and soybean fields as enlarged pictures pasted on the windows.

"As the kids ‘drive’ the tractor, we hope they have a lot of fun, but, more importantly, we hope the experience leaves an impression about how and where their food and fiber is produced," Butterworth said. "Students will have the opportunity to become a farmer and harvest virtual row crops through the magic of audiovisuals located inside the cab."

Also inside the trailer are learning labs which will teach kids about all areas in agriculture such as poultry, cattle, timber and various row crops. These stations will let kids touch different commodities and learn facts specifically about products grown and raised in Alabama. They will also get to visit local farms through videos and more.

"Another level of education with Ag in Action is to have members of the farming community to be the host of the trailer at each school and community event," Groves added. "This way the farmers and other people who are immersed in agriculture can be the direct source of information to the school kids who are learning about this part of our community."

Inside, the trailer is wrapped with photos of a field of cotton, soybeans ready to be harvested, the middle of a chicken house, cattle walking through a pasture, timber and baled hay all taken on farms in North Alabama.

"Our purpose is to bring agriculture to school students and reinforce that the food they eat is grown locally," Butterworth continued. "AIA is a farm being delivered to the school to educate."

AIA’s first stop is scheduled for the Etowah County Farm-City Week program on October 2 and 3. For those in one of the seven county project areas interested in hosting AIA at an event or school, they should contact their county representative listed on the AIA Facebook page.

According to AIA’s Facebook page, "Our belief is that we as an ag community need to ensure that the connection between the farm and urban and rural life is not forgotten, and that students know that their food and fiber come from local farms."

Anna Wright is a freelance writer from Collinsville.