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National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference Recap

Iowa had the amazing opportunity to host this year’s National Ag in the Classroom conference. The 2021 NAITC conference was hosted in Iowa’s capital, Des Moines, with an agenda of daily workshops, traveling workshops (tours), and inspirational speakers such as Dr. Anton Treuer and Nicole Jolly. At this event, teachers, coordinators, and ag-lovers from across the nation gathered to share lessons, tips, and information regarding agriculture education.

The conference was hosted from June 28th through July 2nd with each day beginning with a breakfast for all participants, followed by workshops available both in-person and virtually. The daily workshops had unique information that inspired conference members with varying agricultural information such as topics of aviation, wind farming, livestock, crops, vermiculture and so much more. Our own Linn County Education Outreach Coordinator, Morgan Hibbs, presented a STEM lesson and activity to participants called Protect the Pringle Chip!

On the 29th, participants had the option of attending a traveling workshop where they could tour local farms, companies, and other ag organizations.

This was my first year attending the NAITC conference and it was certainly memorable. I was able to meet other agriculture educators from across the nation, learn about unique agriculture techniques, and become inspired by the various speakers and information shown throughout this experience. On my first day of the conference, I participated in the traveling workshop titled “No, it’s Iowa” where we toured the global company Kemin and the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. Despite being an Iowan, I was fairly unfamiliar with both of these places so it was great to see them from the inside and learn more about my home state.

Kemin Industries is an ingredient supplier dedicated to improving the quality of life for people and animals across the world by creating ingredients and technologies to help with the production of animal health, food technologies, crops, textiles, aquaculture, and nutraceuticals. Millions of products we encounter daily such as clothing items, food, medications, pet food, and supplements are made available and safe to us through Kemin ingredients. It was founded in 1961 by R.W. and Mary Nelson in the heart of Iowa -- Des Moines! Over the years, Kemin has been able to produce safe products, improve food safety, and assist in scientific breakthroughs in over 120 countries. On this tour, we were able to get an inside look at the labs and employees who make this groundbreaking company possible.

For the second part of our tour, we visited the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, a beautiful and historic place dedicated to founder and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Norman Bourlaug. Dr. Borlaug is credited with saving more lives than any other person on the planet after he discovered a crop often referred to as miracle wheat. While visiting Mexico for an agriculture research position, Borlaug developed a high-yield and disease-resistant wheat variety that allowed crop production in areas of harsh climate and poverty. Borlaug is now considered the Father of the Green Revolution and the man who saved more lives than anyone else in history. At the World Food Prize Hall, we were able to learn about Norman Borlaug’s journey and what led to this discovery. One of my favorite pieces throughout this stunning building was the names written in gold that were dedicated to possible Nobel Peace Prize winners if the award had been available during their times. This tour of the traveling workshop was certainly inspiring, monumental, and breathtaking.

While it’s difficult to pick a favorite of the many workshops I had attended, some of my top choices were the NEH Farms, Digging Deeper into Vermiculture, and Grafting the Red Delicious. NEH Farms is a program incorporated in elementary schools that was created by John Seiser from Iowa. This program teaches students responsibility while learning about agriculture through the use of greenhouses, chicken and turkey coops, beehives, canning, and so much more. Students involved in this are each assigned roles that implement the use of core curriculums such as marketing, math, and science. While raising poultry on this farm, students not only gain leadership skills but also sell the eggs in order to acquire marketing and business abilities.

Digging Deeper into Vermiculture was a workshop hosted by Sarah McArdle, an elementary teacher in New York, who taught participants what vermiculture is, how to create vermicomposting in their classrooms, and how to incorporate vermiculture in lessons by teaching students the importance of it through science. We learned about different kinds of vermicomposting as well as tips and resources that could help vermiculture become successful in our classrooms.

Grafting the Red Delicious was hosted by Jessica Jansen from Oregon. Jansen discussed the use of grafting on fruit farms, the importance of it, and how to use activities that showed the process to students. We learned of apple production, the many varieties of apples, and different grafting techniques.

In all of these workshops, we were able to discover new lesson ideas and ways to implement STEM into fun activities for our students. Each workshop expanded our inspiration and knowledge of agriculture, leaving us more motivated for the upcoming school year to share our newfound knowledge with students.

Picture Descriptions (left to right):

Top Row: Beautiful architecture at the entrance of the World Food Prize Hall. The ceiling of the World Food Prize Hall. One of the names written in gold, dedicated to Norman's wife, Margaret.

Bottom Row: Kemin Industries. An activity done during the "Grafting the Red Delicious" workshop. One of the workshops we attended, "Retaining Nitrogen", presenting the nutrient reduction strategy.


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