After spending 30 years building, growing and refining the Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom (MAITC) program, Al Withers will retire this year, leaving behind a legacy that will live on for years to come.
“Al has been the heart and soul of the MAITC program for 30 years,” says Sue Knott, MAITC education specialist. “It’s amazing that he has had the energy, enthusiasm and drive to keep the program current, relevant and something that’s on educators’ minds when they’re thinking about how to educate their students.” Bringing with him a background in marketing and fund development, Withers became the MAITC’s program director when it began in 1985, and he was the program’s only employee for 26 years.
Early on, he helped establish the unique public-private partnership between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the MAITC Foundation that continues to fund the program and its initiatives today.
“To this day we’ve never had to charge teachers for our materials because of the success of our partnership,” Withers says.
Withers is also responsible for creating AgMag, a publication that debuted in 1986 and is geared toward students in grades 4-6, and AgMag Jr., established in 2009 primarily for first graders. Like the rest of the program’s educational materials, the publications are cost-free to educators across the state. AgMag is published and distributed with fresh content three times each school year, while two new issues of AgMag Jr. are available annually.
“Teachers said they wanted a publication that every student could have in front of them and that could be current and updated as agriculture changes,” Withers says. “In addition to the magazine, we now have a modern, responsive website, designed with students in mind.”
Withers credits his “stick-to-it” mindset for his ability to cultivate MAITC’s growth and mold it into the successful program it is today. His work over the years has earned him the Minnesota Farm Bureau’s 2015 Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award and the Minnesota Farmers Union 2015 Dedicated Service Award.
As he moves toward retirement, Withers says he has “total faith in where the program is going,” and he’s confident he will leave it in capable hands.
Knott reflects, “It’s so unique for someone to have been in this public service role for 30 years. It’s hard to find people like Al.”