Long Island teachers consistently rank top in class, and here’s (one reason) why: they keep their ears — and minds — to the ground.
That’s exactly what 32 teachers from districts across Long Island recently did, when they participated in the Agricultural Literacy Academy, a program that hosted a two-day seminar for educators.
Established in 1985, New York Agriculture in the Classroom (NYAITC) is a partnership of Cornell University, the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, the NYS Education Department, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the New York Farm Bureau. Their collective mission is “to foster awareness, understanding, and appreciation of how we produce food and fiber, what we eat, and how we live, by helping educators, students, and their communities learn about and engage with agriculture and food systems.”
They’re working to fulfill this mission — at least in part — by working with pre-K through middle school teachers and hosting these seminars.
“I was so impressed by the number of teachers who attended the two-day training,” says Katie Bigness, New York Agriculture in the Classroom coordinator. “Each and every teacher who attended had a sincere interest and excitement for developing agricultural opportunities for their students. The motivation to begin and continue school gardens is apparent on Long Island, and New York Agriculture in the Classroom is so glad that we had a chance to provide them with curriculum, ideas, and hopefully avenues to continue their food system education.”
Agriculture is responsible for so much more than the food we eat. It provides the fibers that make up our clothes and innumerable other materials we rely on. It is almost baffling, then, that food system education rarely makes it into the curriculum.
New York Agriculture in the Classroom was established to change that, to give teachers the opportunities and resources necessary to bridge this gap in their classrooms themselves.
“There is a definite disconnect between our citizens and those who grow our food (and other products) and this is concerning. We must continue to make connections between our Long Island farmers and students who will one day vote, educate, and lead their future generations,” says Robert Carpenter, Long Island Farm Bureau administrative director. “It is important they understand the complexity of today’s agricultural industry and giving teachers the tools they need will help bridge that gap of connection.”
The two-day event began with lectures and hands-on workshops at Gabrielsen Greenhouses in Riverhead. Guest speakers included educators from the Suffolk County Farm, Sandy Menasha from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Edible Long Island’s own editor in chief Brian Halweil, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
Day two included tours of three different farms: Wickham Fruit Farm in Cutchogue, Sang Lee Farms in Peconic and Half Hollow Nursery in Laurel.
“Suffolk County’s agricultural industry is essential to our local economy, and now more than ever, it is vital for us to create a new generation of farmers in our communities,” says Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “I am extremely encouraged to see our teachers become more interested in bringing agricultural education into our classrooms so we can continue to reverse the ‘agricultural brain drain’ that continues to threaten the industry.”