Photo courtesy of NM Ag in the Classroom

The 2017 New Mexico Ag in the Classroom Teacher of Year Award winners from left: Abigail Husson-Matter, Ashley Cartwright, Jessica Bouloiseau, Lucia Gutierrez and Silvia Estrada. Photo courtesy of NM Ag in the Classroom

Farmers are the backbone of the country, raising and producing the food that goes on our tables, the clothes on our backs and the fuel in our cars. However, most people are at least three generations removed from the farm. It’s important to teach the younger generations that milk, apples and more don’t come from the grocery store. Furthermore, it’s important that the same generation is prepared to take on future jobs and opportunities to continue growing agriculture.Some of that responsibility lies in the hands of forward-thinking teachers who are incorporating agricultural education into their curriculum.

A New Kind of Lesson Plan

“Ask any student where their food comes from and they’ll likely say ‘the store.’ In almost every classroom I go into, there are misconceptions about how our food and fabric systems work,” says Traci Curry, southern region director of New Mexico Agriculture in the Classroom (NMAITC). “Our future generations need to get interested in agriculture and how it works in order to make the advances we need to address the problems that lie ahead.”

It is for this very reason that NMAITC, a nonprofit educational outreach program funded primarily by the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, is rising to the task by helping educate K-12 students and educators on agriculture.

Courtesy of NM Ag in the Classroom

New Mexico State University student teaches a New Mexico Agriculture in the Classroom lesson. Photo courtesy of NM Ag in the Classroom

While 2017 marks the 100th anniversary milestone of the national agricultural education system, this year is also the first time in NMAITC’s 16-year history that its annual Teacher of the Year Award was presented to not one, but five recipients – Jessica Bouloiseau, Ashley Cartwright, Abigail Husson-Matter, Lucia Gutierrez and Silvia Mariscal, all from East Picacho Elementary in Las Cruces.

The team was selected because of the project-based learning activities conducted during the 2016-17 school year, which included construction and maintenance of a chicken coop, constructing raised garden boxes, and garden-to-table cooking activities in the classroom, among others.

A favorite of students, the “Egg in the Classroom” project began with hatching eggs and quickly turned into a yearlong study of all things chicken.

“Students learned how to raise and care for chickens along with how to grade eggs. My students begged to help with the chickens and garden – participating in activities that they otherwise would not be interested in,” says Jessica Bouloiseau, kindergarten teacher. “We also used the eggs in cooking projects and sold them to raise money to care for our flock,” adds Abigail Husson-Matter, second-grade teacher. She regularly utilizes the unique lesson plans NMAITC offers.

Students and their parents also played a role in the school’s garden from pulling weeds to figuring out pest problems, and finally, cooking the harvested fruits of their labor.

East Picacho Elementary

Abigail Husson-Matter works with a student in the garden at East Picacho Elementary in Las Cruces. Photo courtesy of NM Ag in the Classroom

“My role as the teacher is to point out events happening in the garden to promote observation and critical thinking,” says Lucia Gutierrez, first-grade dual language teacher, who uses agricultural education with bilingual students in order to increase language skills.

Silvia Mariscal, third-grade dual language teacher, has also witnessed first-hand how “students use the garden to solve real-life problems. They research the issues and come up with solutions, all while becoming aware of the importance of taking care of our planet.”

Looking to the upcoming school year, the teachers plan to continue broadening their lesson plans with agricultural education opportunities, including possibly starting a farm. They encourage other teachers to look into NMAITC at nmaitc.org if they haven’t already.

“I have been utilizing NMAITC for eight years now and I love that there are so many resources available both online and offline for the classroom at no charge,” says Ashley Cartwright, fourth- grade teacher.

Just as these five teachers have discovered, there exists both the need and challenge to create future superheroes in agricultural sciences – it starts with lessons learned in a classroom, but lasts a lifetime.

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