Kern County teachers heard from agricultural industry experts at the 2023 Teacher's Ag Seminar. (Photo: Valley Ag Voice)

Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

The main lesson Kern County teachers learned at the 2023 Teacher’s Ag Seminar was that the agricultural community is a neighbor to all and family to each other. On the way to a farm tour, teachers felt the full extent of this lesson when the tour bus suddenly halted, stuck on top of the railroad tracks.  

Despite best efforts, the bus was immovable, and teachers evacuated. Without delay, a nearby farmer took the initiative and towed the bus from the tracks with his tractor, highlighting the overarching message of the seminar—the ag community takes care of its own. 

“I’ve met so many wonderful people in agriculture as I’ve been able to make connections, whether that’s my own personal connections or through the seminar,” Scott Haner, seminar co-coordinator and Kern High School District teacher, said. “The connection with folks who are in agriculture seems to me to be a little bit tighter.” 

Since 1992, the Kern County Farm Bureau has hosted a summer seminar for K-12 teachers interested in adding agriculture to their curriculum. This year, roughly 35 teachers attended and experienced three days of agriculture speakers, tours of agricultural properties, and a chance to create lesson plans based on seminar teachings.  

Julia Segundo, a sixth-grade teacher at Standard Elementary School, expressed interest in incorporating agribusiness into her class as well as showing students the scope of agriculture in their everyday life. 

“I think having them do a little bit of research and having the students learn that agriculture is not just farming—picking things on the farm—but [also] mechanics, the business side of it, and all of the different components and opportunities that it presents,” Segundo said.  

Several Kern County institutions were involved, including high school district FFA students. Students presented the history of their high school’s FFA program and spoke on the importance of having an agricultural education. On the second day of the seminar, Shafter’s FFA students hosted an omelet breakfast for those in attendance.  

Teachers also heard from specialists in the agricultural industry, such as Bakersfield College agriculture professor and agronomist Jeff Rasmussen, who demonstrated various diseases, pests, and climate problems crops may experience.  

Rasmussen emphasized the value of bringing agriculture into the classroom and introducing students to a world they may have never known. 

“I’ve been involved in agriculture for a number of years, and it’s very important that you guys took your time to come out—to do and learn and understand agriculture in a different way,” Rasmussen said. “I do this because a lot of people have different opinions of what we do in agriculture, and so for you to come in and get educated, teach your children and your classrooms, I appreciate it.” 

According to Pam Brunni, the seminar’s coordinator for the past 13 years, many younger children do not understand their relationship to food. 

“Many kids don’t think about it, and when asked, they think there is a big factory in the back of a grocery store or something,” Brunni said. “It’s imperative, especially in the number one producing county in the nation, to know how important agriculture is to our way of life.” 

Mandi Kissack, cattle rancher and special ed teacher at Rio Bravo, provided resources for teachers interested in developing an agriculture-based curriculum. In a survey of kindergarteners and first graders, students were asked where hamburgers come from. Kissack showed various replies ranging from the “grocery store” to “McDonald’s.” One student explained that it comes from cows and questioned if “they get it out like milk.” 

Kissack explained that there are ways to get a responsible and valid curriculum for the classroom. She referenced a website called LearnAboutAg.org which features K-8 lesson plans and explains how teachers can implement them in class.  

“It’s really great because, even if you’re not familiar with this type of curriculum, the way that the lesson plans are laid out, you feel as if ‘Okay, I get this!’ And I’m going to be able to tell this to kids in a way that if Johnny asked me a weird question, I’m not going to have to [say] ‘Ask your mom,’” Kissack said. 

Kissack also cited the Kern County Cattlewomen’s website as a resource, explaining that the lesson plans are fully laid out and are transparent on the standards they align with.  

The seminar concluded on June 12 with several teachers expressing interest in attending again next year. According to Haner, implementing knowledge from the annual seminar allows students to make educated choices about agriculture and gives them access to unique experiences that shape their lives. 

“I found that those students who in some way were related to or had an idea of where their food comes from were a bit more polite. A bit more easygoing—compassionate towards their peers,” Haner said. “It was my experience in the classroom that led me to believe that those young people who were involved in agriculture, to some degree, just kind of were a little bit more personable.” 

Brunni, who will be retiring as coordinator, explained that getting teachers involved in agriculture education will strengthen. 

“It feels like our own state has waged war of the [agriculture] industry, and I don’t understand why,” Brunni said. “The state should be helping and supporting the ag industry instead of attacking at every turn—the only way I know how to fight back is with education.” 

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