Kindergarten through fifth-grade students in Michigan don’t have to travel to a farm to learn about where their food comes from. Instead, the farm comes to them.
Thanks to the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture and the farmers of the Michigan Farm Bureau, a new mobile FARM Science Lab program was launched in 2017 that educates students about agriculture with the help of a traveling 40-foot mobile lab. The acronym FARM stands for Food, Agriculture & Resources in Motion.
“Through the FARM Science Lab, schools can have a field trip experience brought to their front door,” says Michelle Blodgett, manager of Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom and FARM Science Lab programs. “Each student participates in a lesson specifically designed to meet their classroom science standards and have fun while learning. The agriculturally accurate lessons are written and aligned to meet state science standards, which schools truly appreciate.”
See more: Michigan FFA Goes Beyond the Classroom
Bringing the Farm to the Schoolyard
During the 2017-2018 school year, the FARM Science Lab launched in lower Michigan. In 2018-2019, the program expanded, taking the lab across the Mackinac Bridge and into the Upper Peninsula.
“In two years, we have reached over 31,000 students and 1,200 K-5 educators,” Blodgett says. “With the excitement of the program building among our farmers and schools, we were able to build a second FARM Science Lab, which will be in full swing during the 2019-20 school year.”
Students from each grade level experience different hands-on activities in the lab, and lessons are selected by teachers. Lessons are 30 minutes long for kindergarten through second graders, and 50 minutes long for third through fifth graders.
“Each lesson includes at least one hands-on activity, whether they are tasting apples, making a farm charm necklace, planting a seed in lower grades or making corn plastic or soybean lip balm in upper grades,” Blodgett says. “Lessons include an engaged activity, information about careers in agriculture and a technology presentation with videos aligned to the topic and science standards. Students interact and participate in live polls, making predictions about their experiments and completing an assessment at the end.”
Ag Lessons Outside the Classroom
Marie Zwemmer, an instructor at the Coleman Regional Agriscience Center, has coordinated scheduling the FARM Science Lab to visit Coleman Elementary for the past three years. A Michigan Farm Bureau member, Zwemmer also participated in fundraising events to make the lab available to schools and communities.
“The very unique experience for Coleman is it allows teachers to take the agriculture curriculum they teach in their classroom and give students a hands-on experience about the topics they are teaching without having to travel,” Zwemmer says. “Students love this because they are able to leave the classroom and go on a mini field trip to their school’s parking lot and see lessons come to life. On the other hand, the lab gives teachers the opportunity to supplement science curriculum in a fun format without even leaving school grounds.”
Furthermore, the lab gives lower-income schools opportunities for field trips when normally they may not have that option.
“The FARM Science Lab is a valuable resource,” Zwemmer says. “Since the average American is three generations removed from the farm, it provides students, teachers and communities the opportunity to make the connection between the farm gate and their dinner plate.”
Blodgett agrees. Before becoming manager of the FARM Science Lab program, she was a classroom teacher for 20 years.
“This was a great fit for me in continuing to educate youth in Michigan,” she says. “I’m a strong believer in having children understand where their food comes from and having them realize all the career opportunities they have, from the farm to the table.”
For more information about the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture and the FARM Science Lab, visit miagclassroom.org.