Penguin2Ask anyone that knows me……I have a problem with penguins. Really. I do. I guess they are cute and all, but I am greatly disturbed that many elementary students know more about penguins than the agriculture and natural resources around them! Think about it. Walk into any elementary school, and at some point this year you’ll find penguins. There is no penguin conspiracy group out there looking to promote penguins. Instead, the cuteness factor has been used to help discuss the concept of mammals in a different location. But what about the stuff that really matters, like where our food and fiber comes from?

This is where Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom can help! We can assist in this effort. Leonardo da Vinci said nearly 500 years ago, “we know more about the movement of celestial bodies than the soil underfoot.” There is a world of wonder waiting just outside the doorsteps of every school in the state! Why not harness that wonder to teach students about agriculture? With the continued focus on food security, as well as locally grown foods and knowing your farmer, we have an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot!

The continued efforts of the Illinois Farm Family program is a great step. At Ag in the Classroom, we offer a program that is similar, but involves the students! Our Adopt-A-Classroom program matches farmer writers with students. The farmers and students exchange letters several times a year. It can be as often (monthly!) or as little (we encourage quarterly at a minimum) as the farmer and the classroom want. Here is your chance to be that one-on-one spokesperson with a group of students, teachers and parents that are curious about what happens on the farm!

We are currently seeking volunteer farmer writers to act as pen pals to classrooms of students in the Chicagoland area. From harvesting to planting, discussing simple machines that make the complex machine for each process, the importance of reading, interpreting data, multitasking, using practical applications in math, computer tech work, mechanical work, sales projections, cost analysis, and understanding the science behind when you market a project—those are some of the topics students are interested in. The students and teachers want to know more about agriculture. Who better to share this information with them than the farmers themselves?! You can help teachers spark that creative wonder in each student. An easy beginning letter is to have students go home and read the labels on the foods they eat. Tell them to find 5 items that contain corn (starch or syrup) and 5 that contain soybeans (oil or meal) and have them write back to you about what they found.

The world of Illinois agriculture provides just as much ‘wonder’ as the penguins! What our Adopt-A-Classroom program lacks in the cuteness factor of penguins, it makes up for in the quality of friendship and knowledge that every farmer can pass on to a group of students.

Are you up for the challenge? Can you express your passion for agriculture, your livelihood, to the next generation of consumers? We’re looking for a few good men, women, families or groups (could be 4-H clubs or FFA chapters!) to ‘adopt a classroom.’ Those classrooms will be adopting a farmer.

The more folks we provide with accurate and authentic information about agriculture, the more knowledgeable and informed consumers there will be. We have the opportunity to showcase the wide and varied world of agriculture, and show students how interesting it is…..just as interesting as penguins or celestial bodies. Most importantly, we can show them how it happens right here in Illinois!

If you’d like more information about the Illinois Ag in the Classroom Adopt-A-Classroom program check out

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Kevin Daugherty is the Education Director for the Illinois Ag in the Classroom program….and really, don’t get him started on penguins in schools!

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