May 2 through 8 marks Children’s Book Week AND Teacher Appreciation Week . Why not celebrate both with a touch of Agriculture?

Students across Illinois continue to face an emphasis on reading and literature, so linking agriculture would be a natural fit. Several new books are featured on the Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom website and I wanted to share some highlight with you here!

As a former History teacher, one of my favorites is Farmer George Plants a Nation  by Peggy Thomas. This is the story of George Washington’s life as farmer, and the impact agriculture had on his life. We have a companion lesson plan guide featuring lessons related to Soil, Trees, Horses, Agricultural Mechanization and Wheat all of which are featured in the book. This book is published by Caulkins Creek–an imprint of Boyds Mills Press–featuring historically accurate information. The book features beautiful oil painting art work, and although the reading level is listed as grades 3-6, it would be an excellent “Coffee Table Book” for audiences of all ages.

Who Grew My Soup by Tom Darbyshire takes a look at how agricultural products become consumer products, specifically soup. Most importantly the book introduces readers to farmers who raise the crops that become soup. It is a great look at healthy, nutritious food and where it comes from. Written at a 3rd grade level, the art and pace appeal to audiences of all levels!

Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace is a chapter book written for 3rd grade. I like this book, especially for ‘reluctant’ young boy readers. This is the story of Eli who is gaining experience raising his first show animal. It is very agriculturally accurate, and addresses the issue of a ‘pet’ versus livestock.

The Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts is very similar to Little Joe, but is written for a slightly older (grades 5-7) female audience. As a father of 2 daughters, I like this book with its strong female main character, actively engaging in agriculture. Libby Burns walks in the shadow of her older brother and tries to prove her agricultural skills to her father and grandfather. Her ‘nerdy’ best friend helps her as she struggles with some unique challenges surrounding the county fair. This might be my favorite agriculture book on the market. Michelle Houts is a Junior High teacher in Ohio and also actively engaged in farming with her husband!

The Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry is set on a ranch in eastern Oregon. While both Little Joe and Beef Princess have many “Illinois” related topics—the books could be set here–This book describes ranching in Oregon. I like this book because the main character has to face many challenges of agriculture on his own, as his father is shipped off to the middle east with the National Guard. This is an outstanding book for all -especially targeted to grades 5-7.

Some other books worth checking out include: Seed, Soil, Sun by Cris Peterson, Clarabelle by Cris Peterson, The Hungry Planet by Pete Menzel, and Corn Belt Harvest by Ray Bial. Your county agriculture literacy program may have a number of books in a lending library to preview. Check your county program at or for more suggestions check out the Illinois AITC website or on the AFBF Website you can look at their Authentic Agriculture book list and even nominate a candidate for their book of the year!!

Kevin Daugherty
Education Director
Illinois Ag in the Classroom


What career allows a person to discuss breeds of beef cattle, create a floral design, discuss selling corn on the futures market, and make ice cream all in one day? An agricultural teacher is able to do all of these things and so much more in one day. An agriculture teacher is not only an educator or an FFA advisor, but they are a mentor to all of their students which includes guiding them to figure out their career interests and determine future plans. Although the career can be demanding, crazy, and hectic, it is extremely rewarding and no two days are ever alike.

In today’s society, a surplus of jobs in most industries does not exist, and many college graduates are struggling to find jobs. However, in the agricultural industry, this is not the case. As the world population continues to grow, all of these people have to be fed and clothed and the only people that can get that job done are farmers and other professionals in the agricultural industry. For this reason alone, it is vital that agriculture is taught in high schools. If young people are not exposed to agriculture through high school programs and do not know about the opportunities the agricultural industry provides, there will not be anyone to meet the future world demands nor anyone to fill those 300 + careers related to agriculture.

By having agricultural classes in high school, agricultural educators are given the opportunity to share their passion of agriculture with students and get them interested and curious about a major industry that provides so much. Today’s agricultural classes are no longer just about “cows, sows, and plows”, but they incorporate so many more aspects, such as horticulture, natural resources, agribusiness management, and leadership and communication. These classes will not only prepare students for the many careers available in the agricultural industry, but they also teach students valuable life skills which include how to keep financial records, how to speak in front of groups, and how to effectively communicate with others in a diverse settings.

In many of today’s schools, administrators believe that agriculture is not an important part of the school curriculum because it is not teaching subject matter related to the standardized tests. However, the curriculum used in agricultural programs incorporates all of these subjects that students are being tested on annually. For example, in one day students may be writing an essay on the benefits of GMOs, or reading an article about wind energy, or calculating interest on a car loan, or testing the pH of different substances. All of these activities relate to core concepts like reading, writing, math and science, taught in schools but agriculture classes just focus on them in unordinary ways and put them in a context students find meaningful.

If you are not fortunate enough to have agriculture in your school, there are a multitude of resources available to use to incorporate agriculture into your daily lessons. One of the best resources to use that will give you a lot of useful general knowledge about different areas of agriculture is the Illinois Farm Bureau-Ag in the Classroom website, This website has great activities that do not take very long and are easily implemented yet at the same time teach key agricultural concepts to students. Another great resource for information about corn is the Illinois Corn Growers Association.  This resource has great ideas for how to teach students about corn and many different activities that can be used with all different ages. If you want to know more about agricultural education or get a program started in your area, contact FCAE (Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education) by visiting their website,

Jessica Collins
May 2011 Ag Education Graduate


On March 24, agricultural education students and teachers across the country will be celebrating the second annual National Teach Ag Day.  National Teach Ag Day was started by the National Council for Agricultural Education as part of the National Teach Ag Campaign.  The campaign began to celebrate agricultural education and to promote the possibilities of a career in the profession.  There is a national shortage of agricultural educators in the United States, and the National Teach Ag Campaign’s aim is to raise awareness of the career.

Anyone who has been in agriculture classes in high school or participated in FFA understands the important role an ag teacher can play in the life of a high school student.  However, many people do not have those opportunities and therefore, do not know that ag teachers don’t just talk about cows and corn. 

Agriculture teachers prepare students for high-demand careers in cutting edge industries like biotechnology, renewable energies, food production, and more.  Ag teachers also teach students how to be leaders and prepare them to take on the challenges of the next generation.  Many people do not realize that students enrolled in agriculture classes at the high school level are learning things they cannot get elsewhere.  Not only are they learning basic shop, horticulture, and ag science concepts, but they are getting math, science, and language arts skills in a hands-on way that helps them apply their lessons to real life.

So to celebrate National Teach Ag Day, help share the importance of agriculture programs in schools and consider the possibilities of a career in agricultural education.  Get involved in your local ag programs.  Join the FFA alumni, go to your FFA pork chop dinners, talk to the ag teacher, do anything to show the students and teachers that the community supports the program.  Happy National Teach Ag Day and remember to tell the ag teachers in your life thank you for all their hard work!

Sarah Carson
Agricultural Education
University of Illinois
Class of 2012


If you have loved ones working in the agriculture industry, and you are like me, you probably worry everyday about their safety. While working in agriculture is one of the most productive, fulfilling and prosperous occupations, it comes with great dangers too.

Recognizing the growing need for agriculture safety nationally and the need to promote it locally, our Knox County Farm Bureau Young Leader committee decided to take action with the hope of making a difference.

We needed look no further than in our own backyard for guidance.  Our members volunteer to help run Farm Safety Camp 4 Just Kids, a successful outreach event to children in all our communities.  Last year a grain entrapment demonstration was performed by a guest speaker.  Since that time, there has been an infusion of information regarding grain bin safety and the dangers associated with grain bins. With a bit of research, the committee learned that Illinois leads the nation in grain bin fatalities. With 58-grain bin related deaths in the U.S. in 2010, 10 were in Illinois.

To address these growing concerns and bring farm safety to the forefront in Knox County, the Young Leader committee decided to take charge. We decided to try and raise money to purchase grain entrapment rescue tubes, which we would then donate to local fire departments and first responders throughout Knox County and also host a training day.  The rescue tubes would allow first responders to isolate and entrapped victim from additional shifting grain and safely dig them out.  The tubes are lightweight and designed to fit through small man-holes in pieces before being pieced together inside a grain bin.  They are simple and require little maintenance, meaning we could make a dramatic difference with this donation and yet not overburden smaller fire departments with additional maintenance costs of specialized equipment.    

At first our goal to raise funds for the five rescue tubes seemed daunting. But five tubes would be the number necessary to make an impact—Knox County has 14 fire department districts and covers approximately 720 square miles.  An entrapment can happen in a matter of seconds—so the tubes needed to be evenly distributed across the county so that precious time would not be lost.  Moreover, we knew 14 rescue tubes was not prudent or realistic—so it was imperative to pay for a training session, which was valued at the price of another rescue tube.  We knew we needed to raise at least $16,800 to purchase the rescue tubes and provide the training. This seemed a very large number.

Our group of dedicated young leaders went to work contacting local organizations, agri-businesses and individuals to help support our cause. We knew our mission was critical and that promoting agriculture safety is important to so many throughout the county.  Young Leaders identified vendors, businesses, and groups that had similar constituency bases and mission statements and solicited their support.  The results were tremendous.

To date, our committee has raised over $20,000 through the support of our local agri-businesses, individuals and an initial gift from the Galesburg Community Foundation. As we now have more funds than needed for this activity, we are seeding Knox County’s first Farm Safety Fund, which will be used to provide means to promote further farm safety initiatives.

With the funds raised, we are providing five rescue units to local fire departments, including, Galesburg, Oneida-Wataga, Abingdon, Knoxville and Williamsfield- all located here in Knox County.

We are hosting a training day for 60 local Knox County fire fighters, some volunteer and some full-time, this Saturday, March 19, at the Hawthorne Gymnasium and Galesburg Fire Training Center in Galesburg. We begin with registration at 8:30 a.m. 

Andrew Bowman, a member of our committee and local farmer and insurance agent said, “Agriculture is the main industry in our area and no industry can survive unless it’s safe. In the blink of an eye, someone working in a grain bin can be engulfed. While responders can’t always be there right away, with the right equipment they can recover precious time.”

At the training, the 60 fire fighters will learn how to use the tubes to aid in rescue during a grain engulfment.  The tube stops the flow of grain toward the victim and blocks additional pressure that may block rescuers from getting to the entrapped victim.

Without the support of the Galesburg Community Foundation, generous individuals and the several local agri-businesses, purchasing the five rescue units and sponsoring the training would not be possible.

Bowman said, “The community support for this measure was amazing and as a result we had excess funds. Following the spirit of those donations, we are starting an Agriculture Safety Fund for Knox County. We hope to use this fund to pursue like focused projects promoting safety in our local agriculture communities.”

Grant Strom, another member of our organization said, “As an owner of a grain storage facility, I find a lot of comfort in knowing that our county fire departments will now have the equipment and training needed to help save a life during a grain entrapment situation.”

If you would like more information about our effort or would like donate to the Agriculture Safety Fund for Knox County contact Andrew Bowman ( or myself (

Contributing organizations include:
Bowman Insurance
Dyna-Gro Seed
Knox County Corn Growers
Winship Farm Management
Woodhull Co-op
Birkey’s Farm Equipment
Jeff Link, Via Monsanto Charitable Grant
Strom Farms
VandeVoorde Sales Inc. (GSI Dealer)
Knox County Farm Bureau Foundation
Galesburg Community Foundation
Pioneer Hi-Bred
Kelly Compton

Karlie Elliott Bowman
Knox County Farm Bureau Young Leader

Andrew Bowman
Knox County Farm Bureau Young Farmer


The countdown is on—-10 days until spring.  You know what spring brings….baseball, planting…..and ISATs. 

ISATs?  Yes the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.   This test has been given to Illinois students grades 3-8 since 1999 to measure student progress in Language, Math, Social Studies, Science and writing.   Although the ISAT testing window closing, all students across the state will be tested between February 28 and March 25.

 For many districts there is a lot riding on these tests.  Although you don’t want to blow it out of proportion, test scores are a measurement that many examine to carefully monitor the success of a school.  Schools want to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and have positive press in the paper.  Many concerned parents, teachers, administrator and school boards wonder about teaching ‘to the test’.  

Ironically, the test, as is any test, is a snapshot of the progress of a student at any given time….for this test it happens to be right before spring hits!  As farmers, you kind of know the feeling–your corn can look great in one spot, but not so hot in another.  Depending on if the rain came, or not, or the temperature or when you got it planted.  You probably even notice these variances on the yield monitor at harvest.  Unfortunately, for students (and schools) the snapshot is that one shot you get.  At Illinois AITC, we heard that call—and responded. 

In order to help prepare students for the ISAT and familiarize them with the test, IAITC developed “ISATs: 10 Minutes a Day the AITC Way”.  These short sample tests are designed in the same format of the ISAT test, and utilize our existing Ag Mags.   In theory a sample ISAT review would look like this:

          Day 1: Distribute the Ag Mag

          Day 2: Sample Vocabulary Test (based on the Ag Mag)

          Day 3: Sample Math Test (based on the Ag Mag)

          Day 4: Sample Reading Test (based on a reading sample related to the Ag Mag)

          Day 5: Sample Writing Test (based on the Ag Mag).

Teachers are using the practice exams across the state.  They like t because it is an ‘easy’ way to get student to think about the test.  We developed 20 different units to go with the 20 or so Ag Mags we have in stock or on line.  We like it because it is an easy way for us to get agriculture in front of the students one more time!

Speaking of Ag Mags, our re-designed Corn Ag Mag (generously sponsored by the Illinois Corn Marketing Board) has just been released.  They are available by contacting your county AITC Coordinator or check out our new on-line version.  You’ll notice a new theme that ties food, fuel and feed in with baseball–and the Corn Crib!

There is agriculture everywhere, even in baseball–and we drive that point home with our ‘baseball charm’. From the wood in the bats to the cotton in the uniform to the grass seed used on the field, agriculture is everywhere.  We find corn in dextrin in the tape and bandages, and HFCS in the soda and gum and even corn flour in the nachos!  The new theme, the corn and baseball trivia will certainly hit a homerun with teachers and students!

Coming soon, this ag mag will be interactive–with links and videos that teacher can use on SmartBoards in their classrooms to dive deeper into the subject.  Links will include video of corn plastic, games and readings from Illinois Corn and other state organizations as well as research related materials and some great clips that are played at the Corn Crib!.   Keep checking back–it should go up anytime!  When it is up, you’ll notice the links are highlighted with a light green leaf.  Just look for the leaf!

It is a busy time of year at AITC, ISATs promoting new materials at various conferences and events.  We will continue our work showing what the Illinois Farmer does with our FACEBOOK  page, including videos and photos of planting!

So as you get ready to plant–think of spring, baseball, ISATs and Ag in the Classroom!

Kevin Daugherty
Education Director
Illinois AITC


Originally published on by Kelly Rivard

It’s National FFA Week, which means that I HAVE to write a post about one of my favorite youth organizations!

I only spent one year in FFA. In many ways, I consider that year one of the best I’ve lived so far. I know that isn’t saying much, as I’m only 20. However, the lessons I took away from that FFA chapter are ones that you don’t readily forget.

Our chapter was brand new. I served as the President in its founding year. It was a wonderful, stressful, exhausting, amazing experience. It was a million different things, but it will never be something I regret.

So what lessons did I take away from my short stint in a blue jacket?

Responsibility. I had my job cut out for me, forging the way for a brand new chapter. Our advisor ran under the principle that the students should do most of the work, and learn from it. That meant I spent a lot of time dealing with adults to make things happen. Whether it was planning for trips, organizing banquets, or fundraising, we had to be on the ball. We had to be mature, because it was the only way things would get done.

Teamwork. Our chapter was a combination of three schools, all ran by one teacher. My local 4-H friends were easy to work with, but integrating a new group of kids I’d never met before, across different backgrounds, ages, and maturity levels, meant that we all had to put a little extra work into cooperating. Here’s a picture of our officer team and advisor at our first ever River Valley FFA Awards banquet.

Organization. Record books for projects, homework for class, paperwork for trips, minutes for meetings…we had to be organized.

Confidence. Nothing will boost a kid’s self-confidence like achieving something on their own. Whether it’s by successfully orchestrating an awards banquet or placing at agronomy contests, success helps shape young minds into strong leaders for tomorrow.

These are just a few of the lessons I’ll take with me from my time in a blue jacket. There are many, many more lessons that I could never possibly put into words. I could never possibly phrase them into something that means as much as they deserve. My FFA advisor is one of my heroes, and continues to be a role model for me, even well into my college career. My FFA memories will always be fond ones.

Now, rather than a blue jacket, I proudly wear a blue polo, that says “River Valley FFA Alumni.”

Kelly Rivard
College Student and Former IL Corn Intern

And we have to ask…


Since there is less than two percent of the United States population living on farms, I am sure there are many people whose image of a farmer is something along the same line I had. Growing up, I always had this image of a farmer as a man in bib overalls, wearing a plaid shirt, holding a handkerchief in his back pocket and chewing a piece straw in his mouth. Maybe that was from all of the pictures in the children’s books, or maybe from my Fisher-Price farm that I played with as a child. Many people still have this image of farmers today.

Sometimes an image can be distorted. Today’s farmer is so much more that what I had previously described. Up until the last couple of years, I never really had an understanding of production agriculture careers. There is a lot more than driving a tractor through a field to plow the soil, plant a few seeds, and then use a combine to harvest in the fall. Unlike the Little People farm, there are a lot more livestock on a farm than one horse, one cow, two sheep, a goat, and a chicken. With those livestock, there is a lot more involved than giving some grain, hay, and water. In reality, today’s farmer wears both blue and white collars. The blue-collar work is the physical labor involved in production agriculture. That work involves all of the maintenance, adjustment and repair of farming equipment, the operation of the farming machinery, and the physical care and handling of livestock. The side of production agriculture that is often overlooked is the white-collar side. The white-collar work is all of the marketing of agricultural products, understanding all of the financing needed for a farming operation, business planning, developing enterprise budgets, understanding the economics of agriculture, understanding the legal aspects of farming , and applying the science involved in production agriculture.

I recently returned to school to study agriculture business at Joliet Junior College. I was encouraged to see a thriving population of Aggies there furthering their education in the agriculture discipline at a collegiate level. Moving forward in our current agricultural society, there is a need to pursue an education beyond a high school diploma. With new technologies emerging, more complex machinery, increased regulations on farming practices and emphases on productivity as well as conservation all contribute to the need for a post-secondary education.

A two-year Associate of Applied Science degree in agriculture prepares a person to successfully work in the agriculture industry. Coursework in agricultural economics, crop production, animal science, soil science, animal nutrition, farm management, agricultural mechanization and more, provide our future farmers plenty of tools to make a great contribution to food, fuel and fiber production in this nation. A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in an agriculture discipline further equips a person to help lead our industry. With specializations in animal science, crop science, agronomy, agricultural economics, agribusiness and more, the white-collar part of our job can be done easier and more successfully.

Nearly 30 percent of today’s farmers and ranchers have attended college, with over half of this group obtaining a degree. A growing number of today’s farmers and ranchers with four-year college degrees are pursuing post-graduate studies. Quoting a contributor to the Agriculture Everyday Facebook page, “Farmers today need knowledge (or how to access it) of marketing, accounting, technology, weather, sales, animal care, soils. It isn’t just enough to say ‘I’m a farmer’….”

David Taylor
Joliet Jr. College Student and Part-Time Farmer


One day every year we allow the fate of our weather for the upcoming months to be determined by the fears of a woodland rodent.  People’s reliance on this fuzzy creature’s prediction dates back to the 1840s.  Even with advanced weather technology to warn us of upcoming blizzards days in advance, thousands still come to see Punxsutawney Phil each year. Weather plays an important role in both agriculture and the environment.  

As a little girl I dreamed of one day standing in front of a weather map telling the world what to expect.  However, as I grew older I began to develop an interest for learning about the interaction between humans and the environment.  Coming from a suburban background, my education never included the effects that an altered environment would have on agriculture.  

Now, as an agricultural and environmental communications student at the University of Illinois, I’ve come to learn that the environment and agriculture are not two separate issues.  Instead, they are revolve in an endless cycle.  Last week I sat in a lecture and learned about climate change and how it can affect agriculture.  Agriculture faces long term challenges from heat stress, water stress, pests and diseases.  If carbon dioxide concentrations continue to double, the North American climate average is estimated to warm by 5 to 11 degrees Farenheit.  This might not seem like such a drastic change but that would make Illinois’ climate similar to that of Mississippi.  

Learning about the current issues agriculture and the environment face is important if we want conditions to remain the same.  Although I was never able to deliver the weather to thousands of viewers or give Punxsutawney Phil’s annual report, I was able to expand my knowledge and learn how agriculture is part of everyone’s daily lives.  

Hope you are staying warm today, despite the nasty conditions out there today!  Be safe!

Ashley LaVela
University of Illinois student


Women Changing the Face of Agriculture is looking forward to its second annual event!  Please join Illinois Corn and around 90 other businesses and associations who will send their women to talk with the females in your life about a career in agriculture.

Register for the event here!

Thanks to Aaron Harris for creating this video!


To celebrate National Trivia Day, wow your friends with some of these incredible corn facts!

  • The U.S. produces about 40 percent of the world’s corn – using only 20 percent of the total area harvested in the world.
  • According to the USDA, one acre of corn removes about 8 tons of carbon dioxide from the air in a growing season and – at 180 bushels per acre – produces enough oxygen to supply a year’s needs for 131 people.
  • Corn is produced on every continent of the world, except Antarctica.
  • In 1940, one American farmer produced enough to feed 19 people, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.  Today, one farmer feeds over 155 people world-wide.
  • The US exported 2,047 million bushels of corn from October 2009 – September 2010.
  • One bushel of corn weighs about 56 pounds.  That means U.S. farmers produce an average of more than 9,000 pounds of corn per acre.
  • An ear of corn averages 800 kernels in 16 rows.
  • Corn farmers have reduced total fertilizer use by 10 percent since 1980.